Homeowners from four Fayetteville neighborhoods filed a federal lawsuit against the city last week to try to force the city to rebuild dams in their communities that were damaged or destroyed in Hurricane Matthew.
Although the dams are privately owned, the residents contend the dams and the lakes that once were in their neighborhoods had become part of Fayetteville’s stormwater and flood-control infrastructure. And as such, they say, the city should replace them.
A lawyer for the city declined on Thursday to comment on the litigation.
The lawsuit was filed on June 8 by the Devonwood-Loch Lomond Lake Association, the Arran Lake Homeowners Association, the Strickland Bridge Road Homeowners Association, the Rayconda Homeowners Association and eight residents of those neighborhoods.
Hurricane Matthew caused extensive flooding and damage in Fayetteville in October 2016. Many small lakes were emptied when their dams burst.
The city staff said in May that Fayetteville is not allowed to spend tax dollars on private property unless it’s for the good of the city in general.
The dams and lakes were built by developers as amenities for the residents of the neighborhoods, the staff said. When filled to their normal levels, the staff said, the lakes had little to no capacity to take in large amounts of water — no ability to prevent flooding and protect the city in general.
The dams belong to the neighborhood homeowners, generally through their local homeowner associations.
The city has not helped pay for the repairs of privately owned dams unless there was a city-owned street running atop them.
Without taxpayer assistance, the repair cost, which runs to six and seven figures, falls on the homeowners. Eleven privately owned dams in Fayetteville had not been repaired or replaced, the city staff said in May.
State dam safety regulators want these dams fixed or their remnants removed, the city staff said.
In May, Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin suggested that the city pay to remove the remains of the dams because the drained lakebeds then serve both as recreation areas and as emergency reservoirs to capture floodwaters. The recreation areas and reservoirs would serve the city as a whole, and not just the neighborhood residents, he said.
The homeowners argue that the lakes were already helping the city as a whole, lawyers Woody Webb and Matthew Van Horn of Raleigh said on Thursday.
The city obtained easements to pipe stormwater across residents’ property and piped it to the lakes, the lawyers said. That made the lakes become part of the city’s stormwater infrastructure, Van Horn said.
Further, Van Horn and Webb said, the city approved upstream development that caused silt to end up in the lakes.
As a result, the city has illegally taken the residents’ land without just compensation, the lawsuit says.
Fayetteville has been collecting a monthly stormwater infrastructure fee since 2007, Webb said. “Where has all that gone, that money for the last 11 years that they’ve collected?” he said. “What did they do with it?”
The City Council increased the fee from $4.25 per month to $6 per month on Monday to accelerate efforts to design and build flood-control infrastructure.
The empty lake beds have caused the homeowners’ property values to drop, Webb said. The values would rebound, and the city would take in more tax revenue, if it rebuilds the dams to bring back the lakes, he said.
Staff writer Paul Woolverton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 486-3512.