California wal­nut farm­ers file claim

Two seek $15 mil­lion, say­ing they lost trees as re­sult of Oroville reservoir cri­sis.

Los Angeles Times - - CITY & STATE - By Joseph Serna joseph.serna@la­times.com Twitter: @JosephSerna

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.

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