MID agrees to pay $5M to Beachwood flood victims

Settlement marks end of lawsuit over 2006 flooding, damage

vpatton@mercedsunstar.comJuly 10, 2012 

SANTA ANA - Merced Irrigation District officials have settled a federal lawsuit filed by Franklin-Beachwood residents whose properties were flooded in 2006, agreeing to pay them $5 million.

The decision by the MID came Friday, nine days after a jury trial began in federal court in Santa Ana. The judge confirmed the settlement Monday, according to Mick Marderosian, who represented around 900 plaintiffs from roughly 275 flooded properties.

Merced County officials settled their portion of the lawsuit last month for $5 million, which means the plaintiffs will receive a total award of $10 million.

The lawsuit claimed the MID and county officials mishandled storm water that flooded the properties in the Franklin-Beachwood area and the southwestern edge of Merced along Lopes Avenue, Thornton Road and Ashby Road.

The plaintiffs claimed the floods caused extensive damage to the interior and foundations of many homes, resulted in the loss of personal items and interrupted the activities of a dairy, according to Marderosian.

Franklin-Beachwood residents such as Sylvia Cortez, who lives on Fern Street with her four children, said the settlement will help address some of the damage from the flood.

Cortez said two feet of water was inside her home, and there are cracks in the structure from the flooding.

Scheduled to testify, Cortez was notified of the settlement Friday. "I wasn't surprised at all. They were in the wrong," she said.

Marderosian said officials failed to exercise due diligence to prevent flooding. For example, he said sandbags could have been used to raise the low spot in the failing levee, as had been done before.

Marderosian said the water overflowed the levee for six hours.

He's hopeful the case will cause MID and county officials to be "more attentive" when another storm hits, doing more to protect residents and their homes.

"I think (MID) realized that the residents weren't going to back down," he said.

MID officials said the agreement wasn't an acknowledgment of wrongdoing.

Mike Jensen, MID spokesman, said the district's insurer decided it was better to settle the case, rather than continue through a long proceeding. The settlement will be paid by MID's insurance.

Still, Jensen said MID wasn't to blame for the incident, and the district should be commended for its cooperation with the city and county in maintaining natural waterways.

"Without those efforts, this particular storm event and many other smaller ones could have been much worse," Jensen said.

The Franklin-Beachwood area was hit hardest by rains in April 2006, which brought widespread flooding to the county, triggered school closures, the evacuation of hundreds of residents and state of emergency declarations.

No major injuries were reported during the flooding, which left waist-high water and damaged hundreds of homes.

Several days of heavy downpours pushed water over the banks of El Capitan Canal and caused most of the damage in the Franklin-Beachwood area. Bear Creek also went over its banks, as did Black Rascal and Fahrens creeks.

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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