Nearly 400 Ottawa County residents have sued the Grand River Dam Authority, saying the state-owned utility is responsible for flood damage to their properties since May 2007.

The class-action lawsuit is similar to one resolved in the past year. That lawsuit, originally filed in the early 1990s, alleged that the GRDA's operation of Pensacola Dam on Grand River caused millions of dollars in damage to more than 100 Ottawa County property owners.

The current lawsuit, filed Nov. 26, makes substantially the same claims and says the number of plaintiffs could grow to about 1,000.

The suit is "very similar to the earlier one," said plaintiffs' attorney Larry Bork. "It's already been determined that the GRDA, by its operation of Pensacola Dam, causes a backwater effect that causes additional duration and elevation" of floodwaters.

Bork also was the plaintiffs' attorney in the earlier lawsuit.

The GRDA operates three hydroelectric dams on the Grand River under license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The Pensacola Dam impounds Grand Lake, and the Kerr Dam forms Lake Hudson. The third hydroelectric facility, known as the pump-back station, forms the Holway Reservoir near Salina.

Most of the claims in the current lawsuit stem from flooding in July 2007 that caused $30 million to $40 million in damage to Miami and the surrounding area. Tort claims by plaintiffs in the current case were all denied, Bork said.

GRDA spokesman Justin Alberty said the authority had no comment on the current lawsuit.

"The GRDA position is that we operate the floodgates at Pensacola Dam under the direction of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, as the Army Corps attempts to move floodwaters out of the area as quickly and safely as possible for residents both upstream and downstream of the reservoirs, even as it balances releases from other river systems in Oklahoma," Alberty said.

The current lawsuit is the latest chapter in a long-running dispute between Ottawa County landowners and the GRDA. The courts have ruled that the GRDA has contributed to upstream flooding in Ottawa County by maintaining lake levels that cause the Neosho, Spring and Grand rivers to back up during heavy rains.

The GRDA has never admitted responsibility for the flooding, despite the adverse legal rulings and its own recent efforts to buy some of the flooded areas and to facilitate other purchases by Ottawa County.

Randy Krehbiel 581-8365

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