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Government Again Pays Mon Bijou Residents for Flood Damage

May 17, 2006 – Mon Bijou resident Austin Hansen, 73, is looking forward to the day when it rains and his home won't be flooded.
"We went through hell here from 1974 until recently," Hansen said, a day after he and 18 other Mon Bijou residents received checks from Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards to compensate homeowners who had won a 2003 lawsuit against the V.I. government seeking compensation for flood damage to their homes.
That flood came during a five-day rainy period in November 2003 while residents were still awaiting checks from a previous lawsuit for flood damage that occurred in 1996 following Tropical Storm Hortense. Residents said that the flood water runs off Blue Mountain in the area and the gut overflows.
At a press conference Tuesday, Richards presented the checks, totaling $500,000, to Richard Hunter, attorney for the homeowners. According to Richards' spokeswoman Celeste Lawrence, the money to pay residents was included in the Fiscal Year 2006 supplemental budget bill — at the request of Richards — that was recently signed into law by Gov. Charles Turnbull.
Hansen and his wife, Louise, have lived at No. 460 Mon Bijou since 1971. He said that whenever the Mon Bijou gut overflowed, it was a nightmare for him because his home was in its path.
"As long as the gut is running and you turn your back, water would be all in your house," he said. "Once it was so high it was coming through the windows.
To keep the water out, he said he built a brick encasement just in front his sliding glass door and paid someone to construct a chain link fence – erected on top of concrete and steel – to keep the water out of his yard. That cost him over $5,000, he said. And he is still paying.
In 2003, during the last major flood, the debris that piled up destroyed his newly erected fence, and Hansen was forced to dig up the concrete and steel.
The check he received on Tuesday was $3,000, he said.
"I spent a lot of out-of-pocket money, and what I got wasn't a lot," he said Wednesday night.
Things could be worse, Hansen said.
"We are looking at hurricane season and the rain that could come – but with the gut being completed, there's light at the tunnel," he said.
Across from the Hansens at No. 480 Mon Bijou is Arthur and Angelica Cumberbatch.
The family's patriarch said that he could count the number of years he's been experiencing floods by the age of his youngest child, who is now 30.
He said that during the 1974 storm, his youngest was just a toddler. "We had to put him in the attic to keep him from drowning," Cumberbatch said.
Cumberbatch added that he has measured as much as 4 inches of water in his home and that his car was swept away to a field in the back of his home after one heavy downpour.
"Anytime you think about flooding in Mon Bijou, think about Cumberbatch. Nothing passes me. I am on the spot," he said. "Let's hope no more floods [will come] with the new bypass."
The $12.7 million flood-bypass project began in August 2004, and Richards said at Tuesday's press conference that it would be completed soon.
"It will be completed in a matter of weeks," Lawrence said when contacted.
Tuesday's press conference was the second time in three years that Richards doled out checks to Mon Bijou residents. On November 21, 2003, the checks totaled $390,000. When they were handed out, it had been a long-awaited payday for residents – 21 days past a court deadline set by then Territorial Judge Edgar Ross to reimburse residents with interest. Some of the residents had already died by the time the government issued the first round of checks.
Ross also ordered the government to begin work on construction of the bypass by June 1, 2004, and complete the work within 18 months or face court action. The project, which started in August, is a joint effort by the Army Corps of Engineers and the V.I. government. The federal government anted up $4.7 million, while $8 million came from the local government to fund the project.
In a released statement, Hunter said that he had represented the Mon Bijou residents for more than 20 years, dating back to when the first lawsuit was brought in 1985 in district court, following heavy rainstorms in 1984. Two years later, in 1986, the district court ordered the local government to adopt a flood-control plan and make certain repairs and alterations to the Mon Bijou gut.
"The order was not complied with," Hunter said. "In 1996 the residents suffered further flood losses during the passage of Tropical Storm Hortense, and I again sued the government."
Several more court orders would follow to no avail and in November 2003, the residents again were flooded.
"For years the residents of Mon Bijou have been afraid to repair their homes and have looked skyward whenever storms have approached, wondering if once again the waters will rush down Blue Mountain and flood their homes," Hunter said.
Today, however, as a result of the lawsuits which have been filed, this cycle has finally been broken, he said.
Hunter praised the bypass project, which he said is a 6,500-foot-long channel, which diverts water running off of Blue Mountain "so that it goes around Mon Bijou residents rather than go through them."
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