Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 14, 2013

Lawsuit imminent in Boardman River flooding

BY GLENN PUIT gpuit@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Two couples who live on the Boardman River will file a lawsuit over flooding caused by a breach during Brown Bridge Dam removal.

A letter sent by Traverse City lawyer Kristyn Houle on Feb. 19 notified multiple parties, including the city of Traverse City and the Boardman River Dams Implementation Team, of an imminent lawsuit. Houle said she will file suit in April on behalf of her clients Phil and Barbara Reneaud and David and Pamela Hoyt.

“We’ve given them 60 days notice,” Houle said, adding the lawsuit’s goal is “restoration of the river and restitution for our clients because of their property damage.”

City Manager Ben Bifoss declined comment. Chuck Lombardo, spokesman for the Boardman River Dams Implementation Team, said he was aware of the letter but noted it would be difficult to comment on a lawsuit that hasn’t been filed yet.

The lawsuit is believed to be the first filed in the aftermath of October flooding caused by a breach during dam removal. The Oct. 6 breach of a construction device at the dam sent most of the Brown Bridge Pond cascading into the Boardman, terrifying homeowners as the river rose several feet in a matter of minutes. At least 54 properties were damaged.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality continues to investigate the breach’s cause.

Brown Bridge Dam’s removal was part of a larger plan to remove three dams on the Boardman River.

in an October interview, Pam Hoyt said the flooding damaged belongings she values most - mementos and photos documenting her son’s childhood.

“The biggest thing is the stuff you can’t put a price on,” Hoyt said as she held damaged sketches and news clippings from her son’s youth.

“All of the newspaper articles, his drawings,” Hoyt said. “That’s the stuff they can’t make me throw away.”

Houle’s letter states riverbank testing near the Reneaud and Hoyt properties revealed soil contaminated by arsenic, mercury, manganese and selenium.

“Due to the Oct. 6 incident and the resultant release of contaminated sediment that flowed into the river and onto their properties, the Reneauds’ and Hoyts’ health and enjoyment of the river, their property and riparian rights have been significantly and permanently adversely affected,” Houle wrote.

The notice of intent to sue also states the breach violated the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, and that the couples intend to make claims for negligence and “takings” because the incident violated their rights to be free from the taking of private property for public use without just compensation. The notification also states the couples’ riparian rights were violated because “the turbidity, temperature, velocity, chemistry and course of the river have been significantly altered.”

Other potential defendants include Grand Traverse County, the Conservation Resource Alliance, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, engineering firm AMEC and Molon Excavating.