By Julie Ann Madden
After going into executive session for five legal issues with States Attorney Jerry Miller, the commissioners decided to join a group of entities and individuals suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in connection with the 2011 Missouri River flooding.
Upon reentering open session, Commissioner Dale Neely made a motion for Union County to enter into a legal representation agreement for the lawsuit. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Milton Ustad and the vote was 4-0 with Commissioner Ross Jordan absent.
At the commissioners’ meeting on April 2, Jim Wennblom of rural Elk Point, S.D., took the commissioners to task for joining the lawsuit.
“Union County is now in every news cast,” said Wennblom during the Commission’s Public Input Period. “I don’t understand how Union County can sue the federal government.”
“You’re trying to sue the Army Corps of Engineers for an act of God,” he said. “I know it’s probably free for you to do that but it sure makes the lawyers lots of money and doesn’t get much return for the county other than a bad name.”
“I think you should reverse your decision and join Sioux City who is doing the common sense approach and not join in it,” he said. “To me, suing the federal government is like pouring water down a well.”
The law firm of Murphy, Taylor, Siemens & Elliott PC of St. Joseph, Mo., is looking into the 2011 Flood and possibility of a potential recovery if a lawsuit is to be filed, explained States Attorney Jerry Miller in an interview April 2. “We’re a small part of any recovery that is there.”
Joining the lawsuit doesn’t cost the county anything up front as the law firm is committing its own time and resources into the legal research on the issue, he said. If there is any monetary recovery, the law firm would then approach those entities that have submitted the preliminary information to the law firm with a contingency agreement, which is typically a 30/70 split with the law firm taking 30 percent.
Miller further explained this process may eventually lead to the establishment of a class action suit, however to speculate about that process at this point is premature.
“The mere potential of a recovery makes the Commissioners’ decision to explore this opportunity a reasonable action,” said Miller. “The county could receive up to 70 percent of the tax dollars spent on the 2011 Flood which was not recovered from the State or through (Federal Emergency Management Agency).”
“If the lawsuit results in a recovery, I’m sure that many more taxpayers in Union County would be upset that the Commissioners did not think about their interests enough to join,” he said. “As there is no request for any taxpayer money to explore this option at this time, the Commissioners are looking out for the best interests of Union County.”