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MON BIJOU RESIDENTS WAITING FOR COMPENSATION

June 17, 2003 – With darkening skies comes a sense of dread for some homeowners in Estate Mon Bijou, who for years have lived with the stench of sewer water invading their homes and cisterns after a heavy rain. And despite a five-year-old court order for the local government to compensate the residents for their losses over the last 20 years and to make repairs to the inadequate drainage system, nothing has been done.
The government's inaction will land it on the defense next month at a hearing set for July 2 in Territorial Court Judge Edgar Ross' courtroom, where attorneys must show cause why the government should not be held in contempt of court for habitually ignoring its orders. Attorney Richard Hunter, who represents the Mon Bijou homeowners, said the current complaint is one of many filed over the years.
In 1985 the first lawsuit was filed in District Court, and the local government was ordered to make repairs to the drainage system, which was never done. In 1996, Tropical Storm Hortense caused further damages to the homeowners' property, forcing them to file action seeking compensation for their damages and additional orders requiring the government to fix the problem. In 1998, 15 of the plaintiffs settled their cases with the government – but none of the money awarded them was ever paid.
"With accrued interest, the damages would total something like $350,000," Hunter said. "The financial condition of the government is very discouraging, but it seems like when the government really wants to spend money on certain things, they do."
Since the settlement agreement, Hunter said, he has made repeated attempts to collect the payments, now more than five years overdue, and one of his clients has passed away without ever being compensated.
Cruz Espinosa, 82, lost his wife Maria to leukemia last year. Espinosa said he wants to move from his Mon Bijou home, but his property value has decreased tremendously because of the drainage situation. He said over the years he has probably spent about $50,000 making repairs.
"Every time we get more than four inches of rain, my house floods," Espinosa said. He said he must purchase drinking water because the runoff gets into his cistern. "I don't know how much infestation is in there," he said.
Espinosa added that he believes his wife's illness was likely caused by contaminants in the drinking water. "I am alone here and I don't know how long I could last here," he said. "I've got a lot of old-age maladies." Hunter said many of the affected residents are elderly and finding it impossible to sell their homes. "Until this stuff gets fixed, they're not going to be able to get anything for them."
He said no substantial improvements have been made to alleviate the drainage problem. "There was a flurry of activity at the time of the last court hearings, but since then the silence has been deafening."
Assistant Attorney General Angela Tyson-Floyd, who Hunter said had made some phone calls to him about the issue, directed questions Monday to Attorney General Iver Stridiron, who was unavailable for comment. Calls to Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood were not returned Monday.

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