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Posted on: June 15, 2022

Big Turn Out for Miami Flooding Town Hall

Town HallPhoto 1

(MIAMI, OK.) Hundreds of residents came to Friday night’s Town Hall meeting on flooding at the Coleman Theatre in Miami and Ottawa County to listen, comment and ask questions. 

The Town Hall was hosted by the City of Miami and counsel for the City of Miami and 456 litigants in the civil suit against the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA), attorney Larry Bork, with Goodell, Stratton, Edmonds & Palmer LLP(GSEP). Bork has represented the City and other plaintiffs for many years now in civil litigation with GRDA.

Presenters at the meeting included Bork, and Davis Wright Tremaine LLP Associate Walker Stanovsky who spoke on the current license issued to GRDA in 1992 and ongoing relicensing process regarding the Pensacola Dam and GRDA’s operations.   

Miami Mayor Bless Parker, and former Mayors Brent Brassfield and Rudy Schultz each described what the community endured during repetitive, devastating flooding in Miami. Three members of the City Council; David Davis, Brian Estep and Kevin Dunkel were in attendance and available for questions.

Bork’s presentation focused on the civil suit, findings in the suit, studies used, and legal expenses incurred by the City of Miami. He said the civil case is a contingency case, which means no legal fees will be recouped until and unless the case is settled. He explained the City’s claim alone in flooding damages and costs is $3.2 million. 

GSEP has received $280,995 in consulting fees to date according to Bork, but this was for work on the current license issues and re-licensing.

 

Bork said there has been $300,000 committed by the City of Miami for a necessary hydrology study needed to provide evidence in the civil lawsuit and current licensing and re-licensing processes. Of that, about $210,000 has been spent and of that about $100,000 was recovered by the City.

Bork also stressed to the audience the GRDA’s current license for operation must be enforced and cited multiple court decisions, including the most recent Jan. 2022 D.C. Circuit’s remand stating, “…the evidence that Pensacola Dam’s operation has caused the flooding in the City is powerful.” 

Bork said no formal offer of negotiation has ever been made by GRDA on behalf of the City’s claim.

“I appreciated the opportunity to speak to such a large audience at such an amazing facility as the Coleman Theater on subjects of such great importance to the community. From the many studies done since the early 1940’s to the present, and the conclusions of the engineers, the Corps, GRDA itself and multiple Courts throughout that same period, it cannot be disputed - the presence and operation of Pensacola Dam causes significantly increased flooding in the City of Miami and the County of Ottawa, and GRDA is liable in the state civil litigation for any and all damages caused by all of that flooding,” Bork said after the meeting. “If anyone takes a different position, they are manipulating the question to be something different than flooding caused by the presence and operation of Pensacola Dam. For instance, in the state civil litigation, it is totally irrelevant that the Corps is directing the opening and closing of the flood gates. GRDA chooses to own and operate the Dam subject to that regulation, and it is liable for all Dam-caused flooding. That has been the law since the 1943 Wyandotte case, and it remains the law today.” 

Stanovsky presented information on the current license and the licensing process and local flooding in Miami. He said large hydroelectric projects are extremely complicated and the City is struggling to restore balance for upstream communities affected by the operation of the Pensacola Dam. The license must include a comprehensive plan not just regarding power generation, but also flood control, fish and wildlife, irrigation, commerce and navigation, water supply, recreation, and environmental protection.

Stanovsky said the City’s complaint in the licensing and relicensing is that GRDA is required to acquire easements and is in in violation by flooding lands repetitively where it holds no rights. He presented mapping that showed how vast the flooding has been outside the Project’s boundary. 

“The process broke down long ago,” Stanovsky said. “Decades of GRDA stonewalling and agency inattention make everything far harder than it should be.”

Legal tactics and political influence also have factored in the difficulty and delays of the process as evidenced in the presentations, for example, Sen. Inhofe’s 2020 legislature re-writing portions of the Federal Power Act exclusively for the Pensacola Project. Stanovsky said final success could still take years, but the City’s efforts are starting to bear results. One example is the recent  D.C. Circuit remand which agreed with the City, and further proceedings are now pending. 

Sedimentation affects, study and modeling are now another hurdle to further consider in relicensing, according to Stanovsky.

Many residents asked questions or made comments during the second half of the informative meeting. All agreed the goal is for the City of Miami and GRDA to work together to partner for progress and solutions 

 Miami’s City Manager Bo Reese said, “I am very pleased with the attendance and outcome of the town hall meeting last Friday night. The feedback I have received has been extremely positive with an underlying theme that until our town hall citizens did not understand the magnitude of effort or the complexity of what has been going on. We have an amazing community that all share in the concern of how flooding has shaped our past and will determine our future. As I stated before the town hall, our goal was to have a productive exchange of information. I absolutely believe we achieved that goal. As long as citizens continue to express their opinions to the Mayor and City Council, the City will remain committed to ensuring we all have a voice and our concerns will be heard.”

Video of the meeting can be found on the City of Miami’s website at www.miamiokla.net

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