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County commissioners progress dam litigation talks

BY Paige Conley - pconley@perutribune.com

Another bill to cover dam litigation costs slid onto the desks of Miami County Commissioners Monday morning during their biweekly meeting, with a new bill for $1,258.

The bill, payable to Indianapolis-based law firm Barnes and Thornburg LLP, is the result of court costs collected from correspondence between attorneys representing Miami County, the Department of Natural Resources and Hidden Hills homeowners as they decide where and who will be presiding over the court case.

The case arose in 2013, after DNR claimed that six decaying dams in the Hidden Hills housing addition near Peru were never permitted or inspected by the state and didn’t receive preconstruction approval.

In order for a dam to fall under DNR jurisdiction, it would need to be 20 feet tall or higher. Since the 2013 DNR claims, there has been back-and-forth over what jurisdiction the dams fall under.

If the DNR is found to not have jurisdiction, Hidden Hills homeowners are at risk for paying large sums of money for repairs to the dams, as would be Miami County.

“The county is involved in the lawsuit because the county owns the roads that go over the dams,” Miami County Commissioner Larry West said.

The matter has raised much legal debate over who is responsible for what concerning the dam repairs.

As a result, each party has hired legal representation to fight their respective case, which has led to even more debate over where the case would receive a fair hearing.

According to West, the case was originally assigned to Miami County Superior Court I Judge David Grund, but in an effort to remain neutral the case was supposed to go to a judge out of Cass, Fulton or Howard counties.

“The DNR wanted it done in Marion County so that probably would not have turned out well for us if that’s where it had happened,” said Miami County Commissioner Josh Francis.

After months of debate, it’s been decided Howard County Superior Court II Judge Brant Parry would be presiding over the case, according to West.

While an official date hasn’t been set for the hearing, Francis is hopeful it’ll be soon.

“With the holidays coming up, we’ll see if they get it in before the new year,” Francis said. “It would be nice to have it wrapped up and done.”

During the meeting, West attempted to make a motion to approve the bill, but was quickly reminded he had recused himself from the matter in an August meeting due to conflict of interest.

In respone, County Commissioner Alan Hunt made a motion to approve the bill with Francis seconding the motion.

The motion was passed in a 2-0 vote with West abstaining from the vote.