ITHACA, NY – A Newfield family is taking civil action against the town, claiming that town officials failed to properly prepare for, and mismanaged early response to, a major flood in June.

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The Sims family had just put the finishing touches on their home renovations not two days before the flood hit. Not only was their home all but destroyed, but they also are now in dire financial straits because they had put so much money into the renovations.

The family had previously retained flood insurance, but canceled after years of no flooding and their insurance company insisting that they were “outside of the flood zone.”

Related: Newfield woman after flood: “That’s the house I grew up in and it’s gone”

The complaint filed by Rita and Everett Sims alleges that if the town had been more diligent, their home might have been spared at least some of the damage it suffered.

Defective, unsafe, dangerous

The Sims say that a culvert in Douglas Road, which had become clogged with debris during the flood, was the primary cause of the overflow that damaged their home.

That culvert, they claim, had become similarly clogged on at least three other occasions, leading to flood damage. They argue that the “defective, unsafe, dangerous and obstructed” condition of the culvert should have been addressed by the town in the course of its routine road maintenance duties.

Town Supervisor Hart felt that their characterization was inaccurate, saying that Newfield has one of the best highway departments relative to their budget.

He felt there was no way the town could have realistically prepared for the almost five inches of rain that battered the town in just a few hours.

“We had sluice pipes that have been in the roads for 50 years without a problem that were overflowing. There’s no way to plan for that amount of water,” Hart said.

Related: Official: Tompkins towns flooding damage could cost more than $1.5 million

The Sims house after the flood. (Courtesy Photo)

A mismanaged response?

According to their issued complaint, the Sims family warned the town about the impending flood on their property, but the response wasn’t as expected.

The family says they called Newfield’s Highway Superintendent, Kevin Berggren at around 7pm on the evening of the flood, and asked him to have someone clear the obstructed culvert at Douglas Road.

Berggren, they say, sent a town employee with a Gradall excavator unit to the property. However, rather than clearing the culvert in question, he reportedly used the machine to clear a ditch near his own residence on Douglas Road.

This action according to the claim, caused “a surge of water to flow down the ditch to the [Sims’] property, flooding and doing excessive damage to the residence.”

The Sims are asking for damages in an amount to be determined by the court, plus legal fees.

Rita Sims declined to comment on the case.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.