If there is such a thing as a financial horror story, Katherine Roberts of Bryant is living one.
Roberts and her husband, Joshua, say their brick home on Henson Place, just off state Highway 5 in Bryant, has sustained over $110,000 in damage from repeated flooding caused by a city-owned drainage easement — a kind of shallow ditch over the top of a culvert, designed to flow water underground during light rains and over the top of the ground during major rain events — that runs 20 feet from the north wall of the house. An average rain, Roberts said, can put a half-inch of water in her living room. Heavy rains have drowned the house in a 2-foot-deep deluge. She said repeated flooding has ruined furniture and led to toxic mold, mildew, falls — including a slip on wet tile that put her 7-year-old son on crutches from an injured toe — and an electrical fire that Roberts suspects was caused by damp wiring in the walls.
Though Henson Place is not in a designated
In August, the Robertses and their neighbor, Cynthia Wilkins, filed suit against the city of Bryant, and Maples Development Co., which built the new Whistling Pines development nearby. Tax documents obtained from the state Department of Finance and Administration show that State Treasurer Dennis Milligan is a partner in Maples Development.
Roberts bought the house in August 2001 when she was in her mid-20s. A traveling trainer for Alltel, Roberts was gone for weeks at a time, and would often come home to the smell of mildew from, she believes, small floods that happened in her absence. By the time she learned the house was flood prone — thanks to being at the lowest point of a natural bowl in the surrounding land, as well as having two small creek beds that converge 20 feet from her back door and funnel water from several acres into the head of the easement — she had a mortgage and couldn’t get out. “I was young,” she said. “Every
Since then, Roberts said, the house has flooded “hundreds of times,” usually only enough to wet the carpets. Other events have been significant enough to leave a water line at the base of her grandfather clock and a scab of rust along the bottom of her steel front door. After repeated claims, the cost of her family’s flood insurance skyrocketed. Now, her family lives with bare concrete floors in the bedrooms and tile in the living room. Both her husband and son have asthma, Roberts said, and the mold is making them sick. In the lawsuit, filed by Bryant attorney Ethan Nobles, Wilkins and Roberts request unspecified damages to cover their losses, along with an injunction halting construction on the Whistling Pines subdivision until the drainage issues they claim the development is intensifying can be remedied.
Robert said she has repeatedly pressured the city over the years to fix the flooding
Though the new culvert put in with the FEMA grant and a sump pump installed by her husband appeared to alleviate some of the
Roberts claims city officials have repeatedly told her the new development, which is around 200 yards behind her house, has nothing to do with the most recent flooding she has experienced, statements she believes are motivated by politics: Like Milligan, Bryant Mayor Jill Dabbs is a Republican. Dabbs, Roberts said, has told her to just sell the house and move.
“What idiot is going to buy it when I tell them it has flooded hundreds of times over the years?” Roberts said. “Somebody will buy it and make a rental out of it? OK, then, in good conscience, I’m supposed to do that and sleep at night?”
Bryant City Attorney Chris Madison said city administrators held a meeting with representatives of the relevant departments about the lawsuit last week. The city’s defense in the case will be handled by attorneys with the Arkansas Municipal League, which Madison said has more experience with immunity claims.
Madison said that the subdivision where Roberts lives was platted in the mid-1990s and met all city codes at the time. A smaller-diameter drainage pipe was buried through the easement beside Roberts’ home when the development was built, but after record flooding in the area, the city sought and received a FEMA grant to put in a 24-inch diameter culvert that runs alongside the original culvert next to Roberts’ house (Roberts claims the original culvert has collapsed and is now fully blocked). Two months ago, city workers installed curbside inlets in front of Roberts’ home to drain water from the street into the larger culvert.
“From our standpoint, we’ve made regular progress on trying to address concerns and issues there,” Madison said. “It’s like anything else: As you learn things, you modify your rules to make it
Asked whether the city should just buy out the affected homes and demolish them, given that the city approved the construction of the original development where the houses stand, Madison said that was “a policy question outside my legal scope.” He added, however, that he didn’t believe the city had a legal obligation to do so.
“The houses, as far as I know, met the design standards that were in place at the time [they were built],” Madison said. “Should the city now have to come back and buy out houses that met the design standards at the time because we’ve learned more? You’re putting a really big potential cost on cities across the state if that’s the case. If I buy a house from the 1970s and don’t go in and [update] the electrical in it, and I have a short, does the city need to come buy it from me?”
As for the Whistling Pines development uphill from Roberts’ home and Roberts’ claims that Maples Development ownership has led to inaction by the city, Madison said that he didn’t know Milligan was a partner “until about six months ago.” He added that when the development was in the planning stages, the city required Maples Development to allow an outside engineering firm with access to more data about flooding in the area to review its plan, which Madison said is not usually required.
Madison noted that Roberts acknowledges that her house has flooded multiple times since she bought it in 2001. “There was the opportunity for her to go after the seller or the builder of her house for selling her a bad product,” Madison said. “Did she sit on her hands? We don’t know. Those are things to be explored through the case. … She bought the house from somebody. Did they disclose to her the issues? Is it my fault, necessarily, that this was a bad deal?”
Roberts said that while she didn’t want to sue the city her family calls home, she wants city leaders to do what she believes is right. “You destroyed my property,” she said. “Buy it and tear it down. You’re using [my house] for storm drainage. You’ve encroached beyond your easement into my living room.”