California walnut farmers file claim
Two seek $15 million, saying they lost trees as result of Oroville reservoir crisis.
Two Butte County farmers have filed a $15-million claim against the state of California, claiming they lost valuable walnut trees as a result of the Oroville reservoir crisis in February.
The claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, was filed Wednesday with the state Department of General Services. In it, JEM Farms and Chandon Ranch allege that they lost dozens of acres of walnut tree farmland because state officials were negligent and ignored structural issues at Oroville Dam.
The farmers say they lost $1 million worth of land, and $14 million in projected revenue over the next 50 years.
“There was a certainty of failure,” attorney Niall McCarthy said of the reservoir. “It wasn’t a matter of if; it was a matter of when.”
It was during one of the biggest storms of the winter that the reservoir’s main flood-control spillway fractured and crumbled. In a bid to assess the damage, engineers with the Department of Water Resources closed the spillway gates. As the reservoir continued to fill, water spilled over and onto an emergency spillway, which also was damaged.
The farmers claim the resulting surge in water in the Feather River flooded their farms.
The state should have addressed the many documented issues with the reservoir long before February, the claim states.
In a report released by a panel of engineering experts in May, the spillway’s failure was found to involve two dozen potential design and maintenance problems, including thin concrete, inadequate steel reinforcement and weaknesses in the foundation.
The Department of General Services declined to comment on the claim Thursday.
Roughly 80 claims have been filed against the state in connection with the Oroville crisis.