|OPINION PAGE - FEBRUARY 16, 2000 - DANIELSVILLE, GA|
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The Madison County Journal
February 16, 2000
to set record straight on BRSWCD vs. Stricklett
On behalf of my client, Mark Stricklett, I wish to set the record straight regarding the "facts" which the Broad River Soil and Water Conservation District sought to publicize in recent weeks. Space limitations of this forum will not permit a complete discussion of the relevant legal theories, facts and, most importantly, evidence. Anyone interested in learning the full story should read the court's file, case no. 97-MV-392-B in the Superior Court of Madison County.
The "facts" which Broad River sought to make known to the public are nothing more than Broad River's contentions, which were considered by Judge William Grant in the context of the Stricklett's motion for summary judgment (which consisted of legal arguments, affidavits and other documentary evidence stacking one inch high). Judge Grant had the benefit (or the burden?) of hearing the full story. He found that Broad River failed to produce sufficient evidence to prove their contentions.
In one example, Judge Grant found that, "The Plaintiffs [Broad River] assert that the home potentially interferes with their ability to repair and maintain the dam. The Plaintiffs fail to present a single example of how the home could cause this potential interference."
In another example Judge Grant found that, "The Plantiffs also argue that they are exposed to liability if the home ever suffers flood damage.... Third, the Plaintiffs offer no law or theory that would demonstrate that their liability concern is legitimate."
In a third example, Judge Grant found that, "Instead, the Plaintiff lists the possibility that the home could interfere with the building of additional spillway capacity. First, the Plaintiff does not show that there is any actual potential for this happening. Second, the Plaintiffs do not show that Defendants home prevents an increase in spillway capacity." The house is not located within the emergency spillway, but Broad River continues to repeat that clearly erroneous contention.
An expert's report by Mr. Francis Fiegle II, P.E., Program Manager Safe Dams Program, Georgia D.N.R., presented by Broad River even states, "I do not believe its [the home's] location nor the driveway substantially changes how the dam operates."
Broad River contends that a portion of the dam was removed during construction of the house, yet no evidence was ever produced to support the contention. The Strickletts staunchly deny any alteration to the topography of the dam after their purchase of the property.
Judge Grant concluded that, "The only evidence of record before the Court demonstrates that the Defendants' home does not substantially interfere with Plaintiffs' use and enjoyment of the easement."
Having failed to prove their case in a court of law and equity, Broad River now seeks to make its case in the court of public opinion. Broad River is publicizing unsubstantiated contentions, already rejected by the court, as if those contentions were incontrovertible facts. Presumably, Broad River expects that the public will never learn the whole story.
What purpose does this public expression by Broad River accomplish? Perhaps it serves only to avoid political responsibility for their past choices and actions in this matter. Perhaps, instead, Broad River is trying to avoid responsibility for the future consequences of many past decades of neglect of this dam (see the annual inspection reports) by making the suggestion that any future failure will result from the mere presence of the Stricklett's house, rather than Broad River's failure to maintain the dam. Regardless of the intent, the result amounts to nothing more than unfounded harassment and defamation of the Strickletts.
As to Broad River's appeal of the summary judgment, it has been reported that the State Soil and Water Conservation Commission, which oversees the various local districts, has withdrawn its support of that appeal. Broad River stands alone in its desire to seek appellate review.
Finally, Broad River fails to mention that Judge Grant also found that the legal doctrines of laches and equitable estoppel barred Broad River's claim against the Strickletts. Broad River, when asked by Mark Stricklett what effect their easement had on his right to build a house, could not, or would not, say. No plat illustrating the contours of the flood easement was ever produced. A "map" referred to in the written easement was improperly recorded and could not be found until well into litigation. Most importantly, when Broad River's agents saw firsthand the beginning of construction, they became concerned about the location. Broad River nevertheless waited three months before mentioning that concern to Mr. Stricklett, during which time the house was completed at substantial cost.
I will conclude by offering two questions to ponder: When individuals wield the power of the state, and bring the inexhaustible resources of the state to bear against another individual, what responsibility do they have to exercise logic, reason and sound judgment? How are such individuals held accountable when they fail in that responsibility?
Kerry S. Doolittle
Attorney at Law
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