WALKER, La. — The city of Walker has joined a lawsuit against the state of Louisiana and the Department of Transportation and Development over a barrier and flood damage.
The lawsuit, which was filed Jan. 5, has the cities of Walker and Denham Springs, along with the Williamson Eye Center, Timothy John Kinchen and Shannon Farris Kinchen as plaintiffs. They allege that during flooding in August 2016, the recently constructed Interstate 12 barrier actually contributed to the destruction caused by the waters by acting as a dam and retaining water instead of allowing it to disseminate naturally.
"As we continue to recover and rebuild to federal specifications we will continue to put the safety of the traveling public at the forefront of DOTD activities," a statement released by the DOTD said. "Our future efforts will include lessons learned from the storm and how best to utilize this knowledge."
The suit also names 21 contractors who had a part in the construction of the barrier in what was known as the “Geaux Wider” project. The barrier is 19 miles in length and its repair is the chief request of the suit. Monetary relief is also requested to help residents account for the loss of property and income.
Attorney Josh Palmintier of the Law Offices of Michael C. Palmintier and John Neale deGravelles of Baton Rouge, representing Walker in this matter, alleged that more than 100,000 of the city's residences suffered damage and did not have flood insurance to cover the destruction because they were not in what was traditionally designated as a high-risk flood zone.
“We are aware of the allegations of the lawsuit and respect due process and the right to file suit. Gov. (John Bel) Edwards and DOTD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson met with the previous mayor of Walker to discuss his concerns shortly after the event,” Rodney Mallett of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development told The Louisiana Record. “The unprecedented flood event resulting from historic rains caused tremendous damage and destruction.”
Mallett said the matter is being investigated by the DOTD.
“We continue to study the ramifications of public infrastructure in natural disasters. DOTD's focus is on what is best for citizens of Louisiana, in doing so, safety of the traveling public must always be our first priority,” Mallett said.
Former Walker Mayor Rick Ramsey initiated steps for the lawsuit before departing office at the start of this year. Current Mayor Jimmy Watson has stated his support for the continuation of the legal proceedings.
A hydrologist from Rice University in a report said that the barrier was a “substantial factor in causing flooding … north of the barrier... .” Palmintier hired the hydrologist.
“Safety barriers constructed on Louisiana interstates are designed and constructed according to national standards,” Mallett said.
Other representation of the plaintiffs in the case are Mitchell A. Toups of Weller Green, Toups and Terrell of Beaumont, Texas; and Joseph Bruno of Bruno and Bruno of New Orleans.