The lawsuit against Barry County Drain Commissioner Jim Dull and the Watson Drain district was dismissed in Barry County Circuit Court last week.
“Well, I got what I wanted for Christmas this year,” Dull said. “It went really well for us.”
The 17 plaintiffs who brought the suit -- David and Leslie Bolton, David and Ann Skender, Robert and Sharon Ritchie, Michael and Sandra Golembiewski, Jill Sterling, Mark Nelson, Jason and Dana Adams, David Baker, Gary and Deborah Englehardt, and Joseph and Cheryl Reda – had sought monetary compensation for the flooding on Upper Crooked Lake. They claimed Dull had inversely condemned their properties by failing to properly maintain the level of the lake.
In their complaint, they cited Dull’s actions, particularly the opening of a culvert beneath Floria Road in 2017, as prime reasons for the increase in the lake level.
Civil engineer Brian Cenci who is working on the Upper Crooked Lake project and Scott Dierks, a professional engineer who specializes in hydrology, provided statements to support Dull's argument that the culvert had little, if any, effect on the rising water level on Upper Crooked lake.
“Maybe there was a chance that the culvert had something to do with the flooding,” Dull said. “But it’s up to the plaintiffs to prove the culvert made the difference - not for us to prove it didn’t. I mean, we're innocent until proven guilty.”
“Upper Crooked Lake, like the other lakes in the district, is experiencing flooding due to a number of factors, including natural phenomena and increased rainfall over many years,” Cenci wrote. “… It is my professional opinion that the replacement of the culvert would be trivial and have almost no impact, accounting for between 0 and 1 percent of the cause of any flooding experienced on Upper Crooked Lake.”
Visiting Judge Donald Johnston dismissed the complaint in full, although the plaintiffs can still appeal the ruling.
“I just hope this is the end of it,” Dull said. “Because they can come back and appeal the dismissal. But now we can focus 110 percent on finding a solution for those affected.”
Last week, Dull reported that he had received a permit from the state Department of Environmental, Great Lakes and Energy that allows him to continue pumping water from Upper Crooked Lake and into a retention pond throughout the winter under the correct circumstances.
Dull said they can only run the pump if the water level on Upper Crooked Lake is at or above 927.575 feet above sea level. Additionally, water can only be put into the retention pond across Delton Road if the water level there is below 929.09 feet above sea level.
Pumping also must be discontinued if Upper Crooked Lake has more than 25 percent ice coverage.