One homeowner’s threat has prompted Star Valley to drop plans to clear debris from a creek to prevent floods from damaging homes.
Homeowner Dan Bowman inadvertently killed the flood relief plan when he told town officials he would sue if the project made flooding worse. He was one of a handful of Starlight Drive homeowners that originally demanded the town do something after a January 2010 storm nearly washed away several homes and porches.
The subsiding floodwaters exposed old vehicles, tires and other makeshift stabilizing material, along with home foundations and a gnarled mess of vegetation.
While Bowman once urged the town to clear undergrowth, he now says he would file a suit if the town entered the creek and made the situation worse.
Bowman believes removing rubbish from the creek will only make the water flow faster along the bank. He says the town needs to help pay for bank stabilization work if it really wants to help.
But the cost of the bank work and the possible liability seemed too too high to go forward, said Gary Rolf, chair of Star Valley’s Floodwater Task Force.
After hearing of Bowman’s threat, the council agreed to halt any work on the creek.
“It really comes back down to what we have all been tiptoeing around and fearful of from the very beginning and that was liability to the town,” Rolf said. “Whether we would be in the right or the wrong, we really don’t need that kind of a problem and we would more than likely end up having a cost to the town unless we have a full endorsement from the homeowners involved.”
Bowman says he is done fighting the town and has put his home up for sale.
“I have washed my hands of it,” he said. “I have had it with Star Valley.”
Bowman is reportedly the only homeowner who opposes letting the town do work in the creek.
Other homeowners supported clearing the debris and some offered to help, Rolf said.
“If we have someone right in the middle who says no … it pretty much nullifies both sides of it.”
Bowman has defended his threat to sue.
When Councilor George Binney and resident Ray Lyons asked him if he would take legal action if the town’s work caused further damage, Bowman said he would be stupid not to.
“You can’t clear the creek unless you protect the banks first,” he said. “They know it is going to cause more damage if they clear it.”
Ironically, Bowman initially signed a petition to have the town do the work and even served on the floodwater task force to push for the project.
However, after studying the problem, Bowman says he realized clearing the creek would only make floodwaters flow faster toward the bank.
Installing gabions — rock-filled baskets — is the only way to keep homes out of the creek, he said.
Town Manager and Attorney Tim Grier said it is regrettable Bowman stopped the project when other homeowners are for it.
“It is very unfortunate that the one individual, which is the same individual that came to us for help before, now is threatening a lawsuit if we do anything out there. I find that a bit ironic and unfortunate,” Grier said.
Councilor Gary Coon said the town should call Bowman’s bluff. If the rest of the homeowners support the work, then the town should go ahead with the project.
However, Grier warned Coon that the liability of doing so would be “tremendous.”
Already, it looks like homeowners may sue each other.
“It really is warming up to be a mess,” Grier said. “There are people on the creek bed trying to do stuff to protect their property and neighbors saying, “no, you are exposing me to a liability,” and I expect that there are going to be lawsuits if they can afford attorneys.”