By Michael Howell
The County has recently reached settlement agreements with parties in two different lawsuits. One was a lawsuit filed by Tom and Charlotte Robak over a floodplain issue at the site of the construction of their new home on the West Fork of the Bitterroot River and the other was a lawsuit brought by Dan Floyd of Renascent Inc. over a flooding issue at the Bell Crossing bridge.
The Robak case began back in 2008 when the County issued a stop work order on the Robaks’ house building, charging that it was being placed in the floodplain without the proper permitting. The Robaks filed suit in December 2008, alleging that the county acted in negligence, defamed the Robaks and violated their rights to due process. They claimed that the house is not located in the floodplain. They asked for a declaratory judgment that would clarify the rights and obligations of the parties with respect to interpreting the floodplain regulations.
The county denied the charges and submitted some counter charges of its own, alleging that the Robaks created a nuisance and asking for punitive damages.
In the course of the trial, District Court Judge James Haynes sanctioned the Robaks for presenting false information and hiding information about the placement of a large amount of fill in the floodplain at the site in question. The Robaks were fined $119,000 for the violation.
The proposed settlement agreement calls for the dismissal of the Robaks’ charges of negligence, defamation and violation of due process as well as the county’s counter charges of public nuisance and the punitive damages sought. The request for a declaratory judgment on the issues involving interpretation of the floodplain regulations still stands. The stipulation agreement also calls for the Montana Association of Counties to be released from representing the county in the matter. Deputy County Attorney Howard Recht will represent the county on the remaining issues of the declaratory judgment and the sanction order.
In the case of Renescant Inc., the Floyds, who live near Bell Crossing bridge, allege that the bridge was improperly installed, creating a significant problem of sedimentation in front of the bridge that is causing flooding problems as well as scouring of the piers supporting the bridge. They sued the Army Corps of Engineers, the state and Ravalli County.
MACO attorney Gregory Bonilla, who was representing the county in the case, said that ownership of the bridge had been an issue, but that the state was accepting ownership. He said that the state had reached a settlement agreement with Renescant Inc. and that the issues involved would be hard to prove either way.
The County Commissioners agreed to settle the three and a half year old lawsuit by making a $30,000 payment to the plaintiffs. The settlement calls for the county to recognize that Bell Crossing bridge “is an issue.” It also requires them to look for longterm solutions but with no obligation of funding them. The county also agrees to look at any future application by the Floyds to build a berm along the river to protect their property from flooding in a fair and unbiased fashion following all applicable laws.
Deputy County Attorney Howard Recht said that it was “a good chance for the county to get out from under something that it didn’t have anything to do with in the beginning.”