ELKO – The City of Elko is being sued for $3.6 million by 60 Elko residents who claim the city’s actions since 1979 caused flooding to damage homes in southside neighborhoods in February.
The lawsuit, filed in Elko District Court on Dec. 15, lists 60 Elkoans, among them Assemblyman John Ellison. One of the plaintiffs is a resident of California.
According to court documents, the plaintiffs allege the City of Elko and about 50 others, named as “Does” – individuals, corporate, associate or otherwise – are “responsible in some manner” for activities that caused flooding after the city participated in relocating the Humboldt River for Project Lifesaver beginning in 1979.
The suit also alleges that a levee constructed at 12th Street Bridge was determined in 1992 to be inadequate, exposing the southside “to heightened risk of flooding.”
It further charges the defendants did not maintain and/or remove the flood gates and decided not to replace the gates, “aware that southside of Elko was at risk for flooding.”
After two months of heavy snowfall, three days of unseasonably warm temperatures in early February resulted in a snowmelt runoff that overflowed the banks of the Humboldt River, causing flooding in southside neighborhoods and closing Southside Elementary School.
The city council declared a state of emergency Feb. 11 as flood waters prompted NV Energy and Southwest Gas to shut off service to flood-impacted areas and crews to work 24-hour shifts.
“The City and Does knew or should have known that there would be instances, including weather events and run off, that would cause the Humboldt River to rise above the level of the culverts,” the suit claims.
“The City should have known the snow pack, coupled with foreseeable and/or predicted weather events would raise the risk of flooding to southside residents unless the flood gates were properly installed and/or utilized within the storm drainage system.”
The suit charges negligence, trespass, nuisance and inverse condemnation by the city which “engaged in … activities that were a cause of the flooding.” It also names 50 unidentified individual, corporate, associate or otherwise as co-defendants who “engaged in conduct that was tortious …”
The plaintiffs further stated they have sustained damage to their homes, property, diminished property values, emotional distress, inconvenience, loss of income, and incurred expenses as a result of the flood.
Each action asks for $15,000 per litigant named in the suit, totaling $915,000 per action, or a total of $3.66 million. It also states plaintiff are entitled to recover attorney’s fees, costs and expenses.
The plaintiffs are represented by Denise A. Bradshaw and Matthew L. Sharp.
City manager Curtis Calder said Friday the lawsuit was not formally served yet, but a copy of the it was forwarded to the Nevada Public Agency Insurance Pool, which will be defending the case.
Although he could not comment or speak about the suit, Calder explained the city worked with a consultant over the summer to identify areas to fix, including waterproofing manhole covers which sent five million gallons of water to the sewer treatment plant, double the normal inflows.
A report from Hansen Allen & Luce Inc. engineers commissioned by the city evaluated the river after the flood and recommended the city remove brush, trees and woody vegetation that were in the levee embankments.
The trees “basically acted as friction, or roughness … slowing the flow” of the water, Calder said.
City crews began removing brush in September, letting it dry before burning it, Calder said.
Calder said the city also re-installed the storm drain outflow covers “in anticipation of more flooding which never occurred,” adding that the covers “are performing OK.”
The city reported that the cost of flood damage was estimated to be $869,193.11.