Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 7, 2013

More property owners sue over Boardman flooding

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A new group of Boardman River property owners is suing over flooding caused by removal of the Brown Bridge Dam.

The lawsuit, filed this week in 13th Circuit Court, contends the dam’s removal not only caused an Oct. 6, 2012 breach, but also diminished the plaintiffs’ property values and the natural qualities of the Boardman River. It seeks damages totaling $2.5 million.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Kristyn Houle said the suit involves property owners who live upstream from a group of Boardman Plains Road residents who are involved in another civil case against the engineers, contractors and government entities that removed Brown Bridge Dam.

“It’s the same defendants, but different property owners,” Houle said.

The new suit variously describes the property owners as “avid naturalists,” a “avid fly-fisherman,” and a man who considered the Boardman River “the most beautiful, serene and unspoiled place on (Earth).” These plaintiffs not only experienced property damages, but saw the floodwaters devastate the river’s ecosystem, reduced fish stocks and cover the riverbed with black muck, respectively.

One plaintiff’s “sacred swimming hole” is now filled with “contaminated silt and sediment due to the dam breach,” the suit alleges.

“He has not allowed his daughter to swim in the river, silencing the sound of a child’s laughter, and destroying what had been a launching pad for a child’s imagination,” the suit states.

The suit names as defendants the city of Traverse City, the Boardman River Dams Settlement Agreement Implementation Team and four engineering and construction firms involved in the dam’s removal — AMEC, Molon Excavating, The Schiffer Group and J. E. Tiffany and Sons.

It alleges the defendants downplayed or denied the risk of flooding and seeks a jury trial on eight civil counts ranging from negligence to violations of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act.

Traverse City and the implementation team are the sole defendants in one count of unconstitutional taking of property. Houle said the city’s 2009 decision to remove the Brown Bridge Dam now makes the properties sit within a floodplain.

“They should have known that taking this dam out would put (property owners) in a floodplain,” Houle said. “We have a right to come after the fact and say they should have known or knew it would decrease value.”

Damages sought against the city and implementation team total $693,000 and $1.8 million against the businesses.

Richard Baron represents Traverse City in the Boardman Plains Road lawsuit. He knew another suit might be filed, but said he couldn’t comment until he read it and knew for sure he’d represent the city.

The first lawsuit is scheduled for a July 2014 trial.