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Water damage leads to litigation for city

Issues dealing with weather had Mobridge residents addressing the city council Tuesday, March 12, and will result in legal action against the city.
On Tuesday March 5, a water main broke in the Crescent Drive neighborhood and basements in several homes in that area had basement flooding.
Kayla Stewart, speaking for the neighbors, explained to the council that the basement in her family home was totally flooded and there was damage to carpets and drywall. That and the clean-up of the mess resulted in “tens of thousands of dollars.”
She said she spoke with city officials who told her the city was not liable for the damage despite the water main break. She said she was told the city would not be submitting an insurance claim for damages that occurred during the event. Stewart asked why the city claimed they were not responsible when it was the city’s main that broke, resulting in the damage.
Mayor Gene Cox told the residents he was very hesitant to have a claim filed because that would set a precedence for other citizens to come after the city for damages.
“The city is not liable for the damages,” he said. “Why don’t you have insurance to cover basement flooding?”
He explained he has had the policy on his homeowners’ insurance and could not understand why the residents in this case did not have it on theirs.
Stewart explained because they built a new home, did not have any trees on the property and were not in an area that flooded, their insurance agent said the flooding policy was not needed.
Cox said it was not the city’s liability and he would not put the taxpayers’ money into the position of paying this type of claim because it could get out of hand.
Stewart said the break was a result of a hole in the water pipe and not a break. She said she was told there was a hole in the pipe for some time as there is a cavern under the pipe where the dirt had been washed away.

Her husband Derek asked the council why it took so long for the water to be turned off, which resulted in more water to be pushed into the homes. He also asked why no incident report was written about the break. Cox told him that was not the policy of the city, to which Stewart answered that there should be and asked the council to change that policy.
Roland and Evie Pleinis, whose basement was also flooded said they have lived in the same house for 50 years and have never had a water problem in their basement. “We are not bad citizens looking to get some money from the city,” said Derek Stewart. “We thought at least the city would have the decency to file an insurance claim.”
Cox again told the group he did not want the city in the position of paying for a liabilty claim and that this issue would need to be resolved in the courts.
After more discussion Cox reiterated that the courts and insurance companies needed to resolve the issue. The residents said they would pursue the issue but would be back at the next meeting to request council members be allowed to vote on the issue. The council could not vote on the issue because the citizens did not get a request to be included on the agenda in to the city before the agenda was set on Thursday. Agendas are normally set

Snow issues
Valery Matheny address the council on issues related to the snow. She reported witnessing several incidents in which people could not use sidewalks because they were not shoveled. This resulted in dangerous conditions for them as they had to walk on the streets. She said one pedestrian nearly got hit by a vehicle going around a large amount of snow deposited by city plows.
Matheny said there are people who are not moving their vehicles during snow emergencies, cause uneven clearing and ridges in the snow on the streets.
She pointed out that the streets are not cleaned as they should be and residents are having issues getting around on the streets.
She asked the council if the snow clearing equipment was adequate for the job.
Matheny also told the council that she has been awakened every night recently by trucks hauling snow to dump on the city’s property along Railroad Street. She said she complained and two of the three companies that have been using Third Avenue East have found other routes. She said the last company has refused to use of other streets to haul. Matheny pointed to a city ordinance prohibiting trucks from using city streets for commercial hauling.
Mobridge Police Chief Shawn Madison told Matheny the ordinance only applies to semis hauling trailers but Matheny said she did not understand the ordinance to only apply to semis.
Madison said since there was no ordinance concerning the snow hauling trucks, they could not stop them from using Third Avenue East to haul snow. Matheny also told the council that said responses from the city since Cindy Rische left her position as ordinance officer were very disappointing. She said Rische dealt with these problems and followed up with residents on issues with which she dealt.
Matheny said the city made a mistake in not doing what they should to keep Rische in her position with the city.
As she left, Matheny told the council she would be putting her home of 27 years up for sale and leaving the community.

Executive session
Following their normal business the council adjourned into executive session to discuss a legal matter. When they resumed the regular meeting Cox announced the city attorney would be drafting a letter stating the city was not liable for the damages resulting from the water main break.
The video of all council meetings can be viewed through the Mobridge Tribune website at www.mobridgetribune.com and click on the video link on the right hand side of the page.
– Katie Zerr –