A couple whose home near Irmo was devastated in recent flash floods is claiming that water released from Lake Murray by South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. caused it, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Lexington County circuit court.
SCE&G knew that letting water out of the lake into the lower Saluda River was likely to flood areas downstream and failed to give nearby homeowners adequate warning, Sharon and Thomas Funderburk allege in their lawsuit, risking people’s lives.
It is apparently the first of several lawsuits expected to be filed across the Midlands for flooding that occurred Oct. 4-5.
SCE&G hasn’t seen the lawsuit yet and has no comment, spokesman Eric Boomhower said.
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But the company was diligent in “keeping folks aware of what was happening,” Boomhower said.
The Funderburk home on Wilton Hill Road in the low-lying Coldstream subdivision below the Lake Murray dam is among what officials estimate are 400 residences damaged by flood waters in Lexington County. Dozens of their neighbors also suffered extensive damage to their homes and belongings.
“We believe there is sufficient evidence to justify filing this suit against the power company. There are a number of questions that have to be answered about what happened and why, and we intend to get those answers,” the Funderburk’s lawyer, Jake Moore of Lexington, said.
The Funderburks’ home was flooded when lake water spilled into nearby Saluda Shoals Park and backed up into Rawls Creek, which feeds the pond that overflowed behind the residence, the lawsuit says. The couple had just bought the house, which was built in the 1970s. They moved there in September.
SCE&G was negligent and reckless in not releasing enough water from the 47,500-acre lake prior to record rain and in failing to give sufficient warning so homeowners could prepare, the lawsuit says.
The water released was necessary to protect the power company’s earthen dam, which was completed 85 years ago to create the man-made lake, officials at the Cayce-based utility said before the lawsuit.
Lake levels were 3.5 feet below the maximum allowed prior to the rain, geology records show.
Preliminary releases started Oct. 1, and a warning that significant amounts could follow was issued publicly the next day as rain started, SCE&G has said.
SCE&G sent a notice to news outlets and posted it on social media at 9:44 am. Oct. 4 that the floodgates would open at noon that day to handle the flow into the lake from rain-swollen tributaries. A second notice was sent to authorities at 11:09 a.m., company officials have said.
It was the first time dam floodgates were opened due to rain since 1969, officials say. Gates were closed after two days with releases as high as 375,000 gallons per minute as up to four of six floodgates opened.
Those notices are “little or nothing” to warn residents downstream what was coming, the Funderburks’ lawsuit says.
SCE&G should be held accountable for “havoc” after it failed to prepare properly for the storm, the lawsuit says.
Coldstream and other areas suffered an “unnecessary deluge” created by SCE&G, it says.
Columbia attorney Pete Strom, who represents homeowners in Richland County’s Kings Grant subdivision adjacent to Fort Jackson, said Tuesday he has taken the first steps in bringing a lawsuit against the federal government for the dam on the fort that broke in the flood earlier this month. Water from the broken dam damaged dozens of homes in low-lying parts of King’s Grant.
Strom said federal law requires that anyone wanting to sue the federal government for negligence must fill out various forms and notices before filing an actual lawsuit.
“We have taken those first steps,” Strom said. He said if the matter is not resolved, he expects to file a lawsuit in early 2016.
Releases from Lake Murray may not be the reason for damage in the section of Coldstream where the Funderburks live, according to an engineer who lives there.
Rain in the hilly neighborhood apparently backed up at a 30-foot embankment built for trains to deliver coal to the power plant that SCE&G operates below the lake dam, Philip Watson said in an analysis made before the lawsuit.
Pipes in the embankment couldn’t handle the heavy rain, leading to high levels that flooded the area, he said.
John Monk: 803-771-8344. Flach: 803-771-8483.