Missouri River Flooding Lawsuit Delayed

New Lawsuit on Behalf of Basin Farmers Delayed, Pending Appeal

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Legal challenges continue to play out in federal court on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' handling of water management in the Missouri River basin. (DTN file photo by Richard Oswald)

OMAHA (DTN) -- The Federal Claims Court has delayed a new class-action lawsuit that seeks compensation for farmers and other property owners who suffered property losses from repeated floods on both sides along a 240-mile stretch of the Missouri River.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of more than 60 landowners, has been delayed, pending a possible appeal to be filed on behalf of St. Joseph, Missouri, farmer Roger Ideker and two other farmers who won their bellwether cases before the court last year, https://www.dtnpf.com/….

In early February, the court awarded Ideker about $6 million for a flowage easement and repairs to a levee. Two other plaintiffs were awarded a total of about $4.2 million. The court found the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responsible for much of the flooding that has occurred during the past decade.

The court did not, however, award the farmers for crop and property losses.

Attorney for the plaintiffs R. Dan Boulware told DTN an appeal is in the works.

The new lawsuit seeks compensation for a class of farmers from Burt County in northeast Nebraska to Leavenworth County, Kansas, after a federal judge in December ruled the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers took land from three farmers without just compensation. In all, the class could include hundreds of farmers and other landowners.

On Dec. 14, 2020, the court ruled the repeated flooding led to the taking of permanent flowage easements along the river, https://www.dtnpf.com/….

The court also ruled Corps' changes to the management of the basin led to repeated flooding from 2007 to 2014.

Repeated flooding led to significant damage to farms, including lost infrastructure, damaged farm ground and lost crops and future land usage.

Through it all, the Corps of Engineers has maintained it has been following its master manual.

Firestone said in her ruling that federal law doesn't permit the awarding of "consequential" damages, including lost crops.

In 2018, the court ruled the Corps was responsible for recurring floods that severely damaged Ideker's farm -- for several years post-2004, except 2011 -- and on March 11, 2019, the court moved to the compensation portion of the case. Ideker's farm was again underwater in 2019 as a result of the heavy flooding in the basin.

Ideker and hundreds of other basin farmers have been working to return large chunks of land buried in sand to production while holding out for a successful court case.

The court ruled changes made to the flood manual by the Corps of Engineers led to unprecedented releases from Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota following heavy spring rains and snowmelt in Montana in 2011. The Corps released large volumes of water from that dam in 2011, and all the levees along Ideker's farm were destroyed.

The 2011 flood caused an estimated $2 billion in damage in several states. The Corps had to make unprecedented water releases from northern dams, flooding farms and communities in the lower basin and bringing into question whether the Corps handled the situation correctly. Many landowners downstream blamed the Corps' water release for exacerbating the flood. A task force later found the Corps did all it could to manage the water.

Firestone ruled in 2018 that, in five of the six years in question dating back to 2007, the Corps of Engineers violated the Fifth Amendment by not compensating farmers for flood-damaged land. She disallowed flood claims from 2011.

Firestone ruled in 2018 the Corps deprioritized flood control in 2004. In 2004, the Corps instituted the Missouri River Recovery Program to accelerate changes to the river to enhance wildlife habitats.

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley