Horton Avenue residents may sue over March flood

07/08/2010 12:00 AM |

The March flooding on Horton Avenue forced more than a dozen families out of their homes, some of which are still uninhabitable.

Eight Horton Avenue property owners whose homes were damaged in the March 31 storm have filed notices of claim against both Riverhead Town and Suffolk County.

The first step to filing a lawsuit, the notices were submitted Wednesday, June 28, in Central Islip. The eight homeowners own a total of 12 homes that were affected by the flood, according to the information they supplied with their claims.

They claim that damage to their properties was the result of”negligence of the Town of Riverhead and the County of Suffolk in the ownership, operation, management, maintenance, repair and control of the street, storm drains, storm drain systems, underground drainage systems, drain sewers, sump, catch basin, pools and pipes located at, near and about” their houses.

They also claim that the defective conditions were the result of “the faulty, careless and negligent and/or reckless repair work performed by the employees and/or servants” of the town and county.

Town officials declined comment.

While the homeowners acknowledge that there town and county officials have made some good faith efforts to help, state law requires that a notice of claim be filed within 90 days of the event in question, in this case the storm, said J. Clayton Moore, the Central Islip attorney who is handling all eight claims, in an interview last Thursday.

“We know that, based on history, all the best intentions don’t always lead to the results all the parties expect,” Mr. Moore said. “A lot of these homeowners were older people, and I would be remiss as an attorney not to preserve their rights.”

The notices of claim do not specify what damages are being sought, but Mr. Moore said the homeowners would likely seek enough money to replace their homes.

He said the homeowners hope they won’t have to sue. “It’s always our intention to find a meaningful resolve to the problem without going through the courts,” Mr. Moore said.

The March 31 storm dumped about nine inches of rain and flooded many areas of the town, but none worse than Horton Avenue, where many houses were flooded so badly that they still cannot be occupied, leaving those residents to live with friends or relatives or stay in hotels.

Efforts to get funding from the state and federal governments to aid them havebeen fruitless, and a federal low-interest loan program didn’t help becauseaffected residents could not afford the loan payments.

The notices, which are all identical, were filed by Mary K. Hatcher, who owns 145, 147, 149 and 151 Horton Ave., and fellow property owners Ivory Brown, 112 Horton Ave.; Louise A. Hobson, 161; Porter and Marie Trent, 167; Joyce Anderson, 177; Earlene Trent, 90; Sherman Trent, 157 Horton; and Esaw and Juanita Langhorne, 108 and 118.

The homeowners’ notices say they have sustained “severe damages and injuries including but not limited to, conscious pain and suffering, indignity, humiliation, embarrassment, extreme mental stress, property damage, loss of use and enjoyment of property, diminished value of property and interference with claimant’s normal activities, loss of earnings and other expenses.”

The low-lying area where the flooding occurred received water that drained off farms to the north and wetlands to the south. Shirley Coverdale of the Long Island Organization Network, a nonprofit group working to help the flood victims, said at a recent press conference that the area was swampland many years ago and “homes should never have been built on it.” She said the properties were sold to poor people who could not afford to live elsewhere.

In the early 1980s, the town condemned about 20 houses in the area because of the flooding, and built a drainage sump where those homes had been located, but some of the remaining houses continued to flood in future years.

“There’s certainly a history there,” Mr. Moore said. He said town officials were aware that the area was prone to flooding prior to the March 31 storms.

The town also built a drainage sump and additional drainage when it installed in a roundabout at the intersection of Horton Avenue, Osborn Avenue and Middle Road, but officials said in the past that the amount of water that fell on March 31 would have caused flooding no matter what.

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