Appeals Filed in Mo. River Floods Case

Farmers, Government Appeal Federal Court Ruling in Missouri River Basin Floods Case

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Missouri River basin farmers awarded damages by a federal court for repeated flooding have filed an appeal. (DTN file photo by Elaine Shein)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- The federal government and farmers and other landowners along the Missouri River basin filed notices of appeal of a ruling handed down from a federal claims court related to repeated flooding in the basin, according to court documents.

In early February, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims awarded St. Joseph, Missouri, farmer Roger 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.

Both sides in the case, however, have asked for a review of the case.

In its notice of appeal, the federal government asked for a review of the judgment entered on Feb. 9, 2021, "As well as all earlier orders in this matter."

The landowners also filed a notice of appeal. Following the judgement, attorneys for the plaintiffs expressed disappointment the court did not award the farmers for crop and property losses.

Another class-action lawsuit was filed in federal claims court at the beginning of 2021, seeking 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. That lawsuit has been delayed pending appeals.

On Dec. 14, 2020, the claims court ruled the repeated flooding led to the taking of permanent flowage easements along the river. The court also ruled U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' 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 maintained it had been following its master manual.

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.

The court ruled in 2018 that in five of the six years in question dating back to 2007, the Corps 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.

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

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Todd Neeley