KANSAS CITY, Mo., — A federal judge in Washington, D.C. ruled March 13 that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers bears responsibility for causing recurrent flooding and damaging farms and property in four Midwest states along the Missouri River: Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas.
The ruling states that the government must compensate farmers, landowners and business owners for the flood damage, which has been estimated to exceed $300 million.
The case, Ideker Farms et al v. United States of America, was brought by 372 plaintiffs comprised of farmers, landowners and business owners, and has been led by Polsinelli in partnership with Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.
The mass action lawsuit was originally filed Mar. 5, 2014, and alleged that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ actions have violated the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment that bars the Government from taking private property without just compensation.
Judge Nancy B. Firestone with the United States Court of Federal Claims found in favor of the plaintiffs in five of the six years that the flooding was claimed dating back to 2007, disallowing the flood claims in 2011.
The court found that the Corps’ deprioritized flood control in 2004.
Judge Firestone stated in her Trial Opinion that the evidence established the Corps’ changes to the river “had the effect of raising the Missouri River’s water surface elevations (“WSEs”) in periods of high flows.”
She found that since 2007, the flooding has been among the worst in the history of the river and the Corps’ changes in the management of the river caused or contributed to the flooding.
Citing the testimony of plaintiffs’ experts, the court acknowledged that “recurrent flooding in the Missouri River Basin…will continue into the future,” and that increased blocked drainage of farmlands due to higher river levels is a problem.
The ruling also addressed the critical shift in the management of the river by the Corps in 2004 to restore its ecosystem and benefit and create habitat for threatened and endangered species.
The court found the notching of dikes and revetments, as well as the reopening of the historic chutes, which allows the river to meander and erode the bank, created potential flood impacts.
These changes to the river, coupled with increased reservoir storage and threatened and endangered species releases from the dams during high river stages below the dams, served to cause or contribute to cause flooding in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014 and since.
The Ideker Farms, Inc. et al v. United States of America case has two phases.
This ruling marks the end of phase one, which began Mar. 6, 2017, focusing on liability and the cause of the flooding.
The trial in the Federal Claims Court began in Kansas City before moving to Washington, D.C.
Over 100 depositions were taken and in excess of 20 million documents were produced throughout phase one.
The case will proceed to phase two, where the Court will determine the extent of losses due to the taking.
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