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Potential class action lawsuit underway for 2019 flood victims



delta flooding
Backwater flooding, July 2019.

Lawyers from two out-of-town law firms met with victims of 2019 floods at the Vicksburg Convention Center Saturday.

The firms, Deakle-Johnson Law Firm of Hattiesburg and Pendley, Baudin & Coffin of Plaquemine, La., were exploring the possibility of signing up Delta residents to form a class-action suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and possibly the Environmental Protection Agency. The suit would address the way the agencies managed—or mismanaged—the 2019 floods and the decisions that led to the devastation in the South Delta.

Last year, nearly 550,000 acres in Yazoo Backwater were underwater for 219 days. The acreage included about 230,000 acres of the richest farmland in the nation, preventing many farmers from planting at all. Flooding also forced many residents to leave their homes, and this year is shaping up to be a repeat, with floods already overtopping and closing roads at Eagle Lake.

Much of the flooding is manmade. In 2008, the EPA prevented the Corps from completing a flood mitigation plan in the works since the 1940s. The last piece of the plan calls for installing pumps at the Steele Bayou Control Structure that would pump water out of the Backwater even if river levels closed the gates there to prevent flooding from the rivers. With the rivers high for months in 2019, flooding caused by heavy rains filled up the Backwater like a bathtub.

With the pumps, much of that water would have been pumped out over the gates at a rate of 14,000 cubic feet per day, saving nearly 70% of the homes and land from flooding, a Corps report states.

Lawyer Rome Johnson with Deakle Johnson told WLBT he believes residents have a case for damages based on the 5th Amendment’s Takings Clause, which says the federal government can take private property for public use providing “just compensation” is given.

“What the government has done here is essentially take these citizens’ property with no just compensation,” Johnson said. “So, we feel that they have a great case. Anything going forward, as long as the lawsuit is going on, would be included in the lawsuit.”

If the lawsuit goes ahead, it will join the Mississippi Secretary of State and other entities suing the Corps over the 2019 floods.

In December, Delbert Hosemann, then the state’s attorney general, announced a suit against the Corps and the Mississippi River Commission over damages to the Mississippi Gulf Coast caused by the opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway. Then-Attorney General Jim Hood announced the suit in October 2019, 60 days before filing as required by law, and was accused of using it to gain votes in his run for governor.

The huge influx of freshwater into the Gulf caused a toxic algae bloom that eventually closed every Mississippi beach to swimmers and waders, and the decreased salinity devastated the state’s Gulf seafood industry.

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