One Columbia lawyer to continue legal war with Fort Jackson over flooding

Flooding below Fort Jackson turned streets into rivers during a historic October 2015 deluge in Columbia.
Flooding below Fort Jackson turned streets into rivers during a historic October 2015 deluge in Columbia.

Columbia lawyer Pete Strom says he will continue with legal action against Fort Jackson over a broken dam many people blame for flooding nearby homes — despite arguments that some flood cases are hard to prove.

Strom, whose firm represents homeowners next to the fort, said he plans more than 20 despositions over events surrounding a historic 2015 flood. Among those whose deposition will be taken is a former Fort Jackson commander who will be asked about changes made to a broken dam on the fort, Strom said. That dam, an earthen structure at Semmes Lake, burst during a massive rain storm early on Oct. 4, 2015, sending a torrent of water down Wildcat Creek toward the King’s Grant neighborhood.

“These cases are proceeding,’’ said Strom, whose firm filed suit last year against the federal government over what he has said was about $20 million in damage at King’s Grant.

Strom’s efforts follow revelations that the McGowan, Hood and Felder law firm, which also had a major property damage case against the fort, plans to withdraw as legal counsel for more than 50 property owners whose homes were flooded.

The McGowan firm said in a recent letter to clients that it can’t prove a connection between broken dams at Fort Jackson and downstream property damage. The McGowan firm’s planned withdrawal has left dozens of flood victims to decide whether they would hire a new attorney or drop the case.

But Strom said his case still is worth pursuing, even though the work has been challenging.

“We’ve learned that some of the homes we thought may have been damaged by fort flood water may have been damaged by other water,” he said. Likewise, “there are homes we did not think were affected by the fort, that were affected by the fort.’’

He declined to discuss specifics, but said the case is “alive and well and we’re moving forward.’’

It might be easier to show a connection between the Semmes Lake dam and King’s Grant, as opposed to other downstream property. The gated community of high-end homes is closer to the broken Semmes Lake dam than most other private property off the base.

Lake Katherine resident Lewis Cromer, who was represented by the McGowan firm, said he’s now considering whether to hire another law firm to continue the property damage case.

“I’m having other attorneys look at it and I’ll be guided to some degree by what they tell me,’’ said Cromer, himself a lawyer in Columbia. Of Strom, Cromer said, “I would value his opinion.’’

Legal cases against Fort Jackson blame the military for not fixing the Semmes Lake dam. Flood victims argue that the federal government knew the structure needed repair well before the flood, but didn’t shore the dam up.