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Grand River Dam Suit is Déjà Vu All over Again

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Topeka, KSAttorney Larry Bork has spent literally thousands of hours battling the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) on behalf of people whose homes have been flooded again and again by high water levels in Ottawa County, Oklahoma. "There are a lot of people that are extremely irritated, no doubt about it," says Bork, an attorney with Goodell, Stratton, Edmonds & Palmer.

Larry BorkThe ink on the checks from the first two lawsuits was barely dry when hundreds of people in the Ottawa County and the town of Miami (pronounced My-ama) south of Kansas City found their property underwater again in 2007.

A little Background
The GRDA's Pensacola dam was Oklahoma's first hydroelectric project built during the late 1930s when engineers used slide rules rather than computers to calculate everything from how much power it would generate to river flows and flood patterns. The Dam spans a full mile across the Grand River Valley, holding back some 43 thousand acres of water that form the Grand Lake O' the Cherokees.

"One of the amazing facts about this is how accurate those first engineers were using just slide rules," says Bork. They were able to calculate just how much land might be flooded at any given time during the operation of the dam periods of high demand for electricity. Unfortunately, it wasn't until recently, during the litigation process that started in 1994, that those numbers became available to the public. By then, hundreds of homes and businesses had been built – directly in the path of the floodwaters.

After the floods of the early 1990s, many homeowners and businesses moved to higher ground. "They thought it had ended," says Bork, "then the area flooded again to even higher levels in 2007 than it did in the other three years."

Bork is currently suing the GRDA on behalf of some 400 people in what is the third GRDA lawsuit since 1994. The most recent flood was the second biggest flood in the history of the area and caused an estimated $40 million in damage. "There are some homes that have just been abandoned and they have to be demolished. They have been red tagged as health hazards," says Bork. "Not only have some of these people lost their homes and all their personal property but some of these poor souls not only have to leave their homes, they have to pay to have them torn down. That is definitely salt on the wound."

Attorney Bork speaks in a soft mid western accent, with the calm and clarity that comes from an expert understanding of the case that lies ahead of him. The GRDA continues to deny responsibility for the flood damage, but Bork is very familiar with the background to the case and he's very confident he knows where liability for the damage belongs.

"According to the constitution," he says, "a governmental institution cannot take or damage property without paying fair value." To that, he adds a charge of trespassing. "The Grand River Dam Authority is causing water to be on the property that would not otherwise be on the property. Then there is the matter of strict liability. "If you alter the course of water and it causes damage you are liable for that."

The Water Lawyer
Attorney Bork has been working almost exclusively on flood damage suits since the 1990s and there is no better lawyer to do it. "Water law was the subject of my law review article and it is just something I have always been interested in," he says.

Good thing for the people whose homes are underwater again.

N. Larry Bork is a graduate of the Creighton University School of Law (1983). At Creighton, he served on the moot court board and authored "The Application of Federal Reserved Water Rights to Groundwater in the Western States," 16 Creighton Law Review 781 (1983). He graduated from Midland Lutheran College in Fremont, Nebraska(1978) with degrees in biology and natural sciences.



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