WAYNE--A jury in Wayne County has ordered the city of Huntington to pay 22 families for damages incurred from flooding along Spring Valley Drive totally nearly $775,000.
The jury reached its verdict April 23 after deliberating for five hours and listening to testimony from city officials, residents and expert witnesses for five days.
Heavy rains flooded Spring Valley Drive and many homes in the summer of 2006, according to the suit, and then again in 2009.
Spring Valley Drive residents claimed that the flooding occurred because of the city's failure to properly maintain a trash rack that carries water from Krouts Creek under James River Road.
The trash rack was installed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2005 as part of a $3.5 million project intended to minimize flooding along Krouts Creek. The city is responsible for maintaining it. The rack is supposed to catch debris so storm water can flow through the culvert.
John Barrett, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said during closing arguments that the city is to blame for the floods because it failed to clear debris from the trash rack before or during the floods.
Barrett said the Krouts Creek stormwater management system is designed to withstand a 100-year flood, but if the trash rack is not maintained, debris blocks the flow into the culvert and causes water to back up onto Spring Valley Drive.
The city's attorneys argued that the trash rack's design is flawed because it is too small and the slope of the bars on the rack is too steep, which pushes debris against the rack during heavy rains instead of pushing it out of the way.
Arden Cogar Jr., one of the city's attorneys, said city officials were unaware the trash rack could cause flooding until after the first high-water event in July 2006, and afterward city workers began cleaning debris from the rack frequently.
Cogar said the Corps of Engineers did not give Huntington any instructions on how to maintain the trash rack until January, but that the city workers already were cleaning the rack more frequently than the Corps' instructions.
Barrett said his next step is to seek a court injunction requiring the city to come up with a formal maintenance plan for the trash rack so flooding does not occur again.
Barrett said there also is the matter of collecting interest on the money awarded to the plaintiffs.
Cogar said the city will work with Barrett on a maintenance plan and already has asked the Corps of Engineers to replace the trash rack as a long-term fix.