Less than a month before the 2023 hurricane season begins, the effects of the 2022 Atlantic storm season are still rippling through the Sunshine State.
A large number of Stone Island homeowners are suing Deltona for damages caused by flooding following Hurricane Ian last fall and the city’s use of a drainage system which, they say, compounded their water woes.
“We’ve alleged that the city, when they opened up a flood-control structure, made any flooding that would have happened faster, more intense and last longer at the expense of Stone Island,” Thomas Allison, attorney for Stone Island property owners in their case against Deltona, told The Beacon.
More than 40 people are plaintiffs in the class-action suit over Deltona’s decision to use its ditch system to move rainwater dumped in the northern part of the city southward to Lake Bethel, which connects with Lake Monroe. Allison said more Stone Islanders may sign on as plaintiffs.
The 80-point civil complaint has been filed in the Volusia County Circuit Court. Deltona has yet to file a response to the suit. The heart of the suit is deep in the complaint, describing the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ian.
“48. On or about October 1, 2022, … Deltona did not ask for permission to open the flood control structure,” the lawsuit reads. “Instead, Deltona unilaterally opened the flood control structure as a part of what is referred to as the ‘Deltona Dam Program.’ In so doing, Deltona redirected rising floodwaters from Deltona to, through and over Stone Island. Deltona did not notify residents of Stone Island of this action. Deltona has never taken responsibility for damage caused by these actions.
“49. The opening of the flood control structure resulted in a sudden and catastrophic flow of water from the east into Stone Island. Water flowed, in a concentrated fashion, from the east, across Stone Island Road, into the Stone Island community. That is, water did not rise from Lake Monroe, which would have been the expected path of any rising waters, but flowed from Deltona to Lake Bethel to, through and over Stone Island.
“50. Over the course of less than one day, the waters in Stone Island rose many feet, resulting in catastrophic damage to the community.”
That flooding of homes and lots in Stone Island, the plaintiffs say, was not the only problem vexing the people living in the unincorporated neighborhood.
“The immediate and intense flooding of Stone Island, and the ensuing volume of water in the community, caused Volusia County to turn off sewer lift/pump stations in Stone Island, resulting in a non-functioning sanitary system, in sewage backing up throughout the community, and resulting in further damage,” reads Point 62 of the complaint.
The complaint describes Deltona’s use of its ditch system to move its floodwaters so as to affect Stone Island as “inverse condemnation,” and the owners of properties damaged by governmental acts are eligible for compensation, under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Deltona’s action, according to the suit, was a “taking of private property.”
“Takings require full and just compensation under the U.S. Constitution,” Point 80 of the suit notes.
How much in damages may there be?
“The amount in controversy for each Stone Island Homeowner exceeds $50,000, exclusive of interest, costs, and attorneys’ fees,” is the answer from the complaint.
Hurricane Ian inflicted almost $10.2 million worth of property damage on Stone Island, according to the Volusia County Property Appraiser’s Office.
“Stone Island was a challenge to assess as we could not gain access to the area for several weeks,” Deputy Property Appraiser Jan Cornelius wrote in reply to a query from The Beacon.
At this writing, Deltona has yet to respond in writing to the Stone Island lawsuit.
Allison could not say when the first hearing on the civil action may be scheduled.
The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Kathryn Weston.