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  • October 21, 2018

Flood victims consider lawsuit, SRA says they followed guidelines - KJAS.COM: Local News

Flood victims consider lawsuit, SRA says they followed guidelines

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Posted: Friday, March 18, 2016 3:27 pm

It appears that flood victims from Newton and Orange Counties are considering a possible class action lawsuit against the Sabine River Authority following the flooding disaster that is still underway throughout the southern Sabine River Basin. Meanwhile, the Sabine River Authority (SRA), which is the governing body over Toledo Bend Reservoir & Dam, says that they properly followed federal guidelines in a massive release of water following torrential rains throughout the region.

Hundreds of people attended an informational meeting near Deweyville on Thursday evening to ask questions, voice their concerns, and also to hear from Austin based attorney Don Grissom, who said that he is considering whether to pursue a class action lawsuit.

Linda Papania Villegas is one of those homeowners who was at the meeting. Villegas owns a home in Orange, but for the last 32 years she has owned a second home in the River Oaks neighborhood of Deweyville, on the banks of the Sabine River. That home was one of many in the neighborhood that went under 11 feet of water, and Villegas says she wants answers, not only for herself, but for so many other people who have lost everything.

"They (SRA) put so many people's lives and homes and livestock in jeopardy, and they’re refusing to take any responsibility for it whatsoever," Villegas said.

Another homeowner at the meeting was Floyd Williford, who believes the SRA could have taken steps to prevent the disaster. Williford said "Something's wrong for them not to control the water when they knew all this rain was coming".

Attorney Don Grissom said that he is exploring the possibility of the lawsuit. Grissom said "Our basic argument is that the SRA, acting under whatever authority they have, have actually taken damage and destroyed their private owners of the property, destroyed their property without compensation, and that violates the Texas Constitution".

Meanwhile, the SRA is defending their actions and they say that they followed federal guidelines in the water release, and while pointing out that Toledo Bend Dam was not built for the purpose of flood control, they say that they actually did everything they could to minimize the damage.

According to Ann Galassi of the Sabine River Authority, the Toledo Bend Dam followed guidelines as set forth by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to determine when flood gates are open and by how much.

Galassi said "We did the best we could with the guidelines that we have, and we really feel for the people in the downstream, the people in Deweyville, our hearts go out to them".

However, Galassi noted that after the record flood event, the regulatory commission could possibly review the guidelines, and she said that the SRA would welcome that.

Late Thursday, the Sabine River Authority released the following statement:

Spillway releases from the Toledo Bend Reservoir are continuing to be reduced as lake levels lower in the aftermath of the major rain event which dropped 18 inches of water directly over Toledo Bend. Toledo Bend Reservoir, operated by the Sabine River Authority of Texas (SRA-TX) and the Sabine River Authority, State of Louisiana (SRA-LA) reached a record level high of 174.36 feet mean sea level (msl) at 6:00 a.m. on March 10, 2016 due to the rainfall event. The current gauge reading at 4:30 pm is 172.58 feet msl. Currently 9 gates are open to 4 feet and one generator is running 24 hours per day for a total release of 45,729 cubic feet per second (cfs).

The Toledo Bend Reservoir is operated under a federally issued license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) who has approved the spillway gate guidelines in the license. These guidelines were developed using historical information which includes lake levels and downstream flood events. The guidelines are specifically designed to protect the integrity of the dam and to balance the concerns of upstream and downstream stakeholders.

Lake level concerns have been an issue in the past. In 2000 the Toledo Bend Bi-State Alliance (landowners around Toledo Bend Reservoir) requested that FERC change the minimum operating level of Toledo Bend to a higher level for recreational purposes. The Sabine River Action Coalition (downstream landowners) asked for the reservoir level to be lowered in order to protect their downstream properties.

FERC conducted a two year collaborative process that looked at both sides of the issue and in December of 2002, FERC determined that the existing operating guidelines in the license provide the best balance for all concerned. At your request we will send you the entire collaborative report issued by FERC.

FERC is the one under Article 43 of the Toledo Bend Project license that directs any changes in the capacity of the project to the extent that it is economically sound and in the public interest to do so, after notice and opportunity for hearing. During this major flood event, the SRA-TX and SRA-LA were complying with the spillway guide that is part of the Toledo Bend Project license issued by FERC.

Now that there is a new flood of record, downstream landowners can contact FERC to consider changing the license at:

Landowner Helpline

Toll-free: 1-877-337-2237 FREE

LandownerHelp@ferc.gov

The Sabine River Authority of Texas (SRA-TX) and the Sabine River Authority, State of Louisiana (SRA-LA) want to emphasize the importance of keeping informed and staying safe during this flooding event. Please contact the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) at 1-800-452-9292 or the Louisiana Department of Transportation (DOTD) at 1-877-452-3683 for any road closures. Please contact your local county and parish offices for more information on evacuation orders.