Editor's note: Many residents in New Milford and the other towns along the Hackensack River have been paying close attention to this case. Here is the court's ruling.
A Rockland County Supreme Court Jury found on Friday morning that United Water did not contribute to flooding in West Nyack and River Vale, NJ in April 2007. Over a 31-hour period on April 15 and 16, 2007 between six and eight inches of water fell, flooding dozens of properties. The jury deliberated for a day and a half before reaching its decision.
“The jury got it wrong,” said Orangeburg Attorney Kevin Mulhearn, who represented more than 50 residents and business owners. “I think today’s decision is a blow for the little man and a boon for the corporate conglomerate that can make it go away.”
United Water released a statement the Lake DeForest Dam and Lake Tappan Dam did not worsen the flooding that occurred during the storm.
"After hearing all the evidence, the jury determined that the flooding was caused by a naturally occurring event,” said Michael Pointing, vice president and general manager of the United Water New York division and Jim Glozzy, general manager of the United Water New Jersey division.
“We have great empathy for customers who had storm damage,” said Pointing and Glozzy. “However, it was caused by unprecedented heavy rains over a significant period of time. In addition, the river system was full due to spring snow melt and 1½ -2 inches of rain which fell two days earlier. The 113 square mile watershed was fully saturated before the rainstorm."
Five and a half years after they were flooded, the lawsuit filed by West Nyack and River Vale, NJ property owners against United Water New York and United Water New Jersey went to court on Friday, Sept. 28. The case, Raymond W. Stormes versus United Water New York, Inc., began with opening arguments in Rockland County Supreme Court in New City followed by testimony on Monday, Oct. 1. The 53 complainants, whose properties are near the Hackensack River, sued United Water for more than $50 million for flooding
Pointing and Glozzy explained the dams help reduce downstream flooding by retaining water in the reservoir. Without the dams to hold back water, the flow in the river would be significantly greater and so would the damage caused by flooding.
Mulhearn said the case was in progress for four years and the plaintiffs will pursue all available appeals. He said United Water should realize its corporate responsibility includes being a good neighbor to people who live near its dams.
He said several plaintiffs were in court on Friday morning and reacted strongly.
“They were devastated,” said Mulhearn. “They were devastated, dumbfounded and in a state of disbelief.”
United Water stated it operates its dams in accordance with guidelines set by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The company describes its highest priority as maintaining and operating its infrastructure in a manner that ensures the safety and integrity of the dams and the water supply. United Water supplies drinking water for about one million people in Rockland County and Bergen and Hudson counties in New Jersey.