Powers v. VLACD
Powers, et. al. v. Valparaiso Lakes Area Conservancy District
Irresponsible land-use decisions have resulted in the destruction of natural landscapes for strip malls and parking lots in Valparaiso, Ind. This destruction has significantly reduced natural buffers, such as wetlands and wooded areas, within the Flint Lake watershed that once served to prevent soil erosion, runoff and flooding.
Residents who live in the unincorporated area of the city around Flint Lake were unable to influence or legally challenge these short-sighted decisions. The Valparaiso Lakes Area Conservancy District (VLACD), to which the residents paid and continue to pay monthly assessments, failed to fulfill its statutory obligation to provide adequate drainage, erosion and flood control services.
Without adequate drainage systems or naturally protective buffer areas, every measurable storm event now brings several feet of stormwater, often containing sewage, into the residents’ homes and property.
LEGAL FRAMEWORK & LEAF ACTION:
In 1957, the Indiana General Assembly passed the Indiana Conservancy District Act [Ind. Code § 14-33]. The Act provides a legal means by which landowners can organize a special taxing district to solve problems related to water resources management. Solutions could include flood prevention and control, improving drainage, preventing loss of topsoil from injurious water erosion and other water resource management issues. Once a conservancy district is formed, the Act imposes a mandatory, non-discretionary duty on the district’s board of directors to exercise its powers to accomplish each purpose for which the district is established.
Indiana courts have interpreted this provision to impose a clear duty on a district board of directors. This duty includes construction of the fixtures necessary to fulfill the district’s purposes and properly maintain those fixtures. In addition to its non-discretionary duties, a conservancy district board can be held liable in tort for erecting, maintaining or contributing to a nuisance within its district.
On January 14, 2008, LEAF sent a demand letter to the VLACD’s board of directors on behalf of seven residents whose homes and property have been severely damaged from continuous flooding for more than ten years. LEAF’s letter threatened to bring a lawsuit unless VLACD agreed to develop, construct and maintain adequate and necessary drainage systems in the area to alleviate flooding of LEAF’s clients’ homes and protect the water quality of Flint Lake. To avoid litigation, VLACD agreed to work with LEAF to design and implement a meaningful, long-term solution.
Flooded (again), Gitte Laasby, Post-Tribune, Jan. 9, 2008
You Just want to Scream, Gitte Laasby, Post-Tribune, Jan. 10, 2008
Tired of Flooding, Residents Demand Action, Phil Wieland, Northwest Indiana Times, Jan. 13, 2008