By Nate Smith
A partial settlement has been reached in the dispute over fixing the Bennington Levee.
The Daviess County Council and Commissioners voted in a rare joint meeting on Tuesday to accept $445,000 from defendants Donald Villwock, Randall Bowman, Cindy Lamar and Shepard Construction. Both votes were unanimous, but council members Jo Arthur and JoAnn McCracken were absent.
Villwock is the current president of the Indiana Farm Bureau.
The partial settlement is for repairing the north breach of the levee, estimated at $532,407. A separate agreement between the commissioners and the Bennington Levee Committee saying the county would pay the remaining costs of the levee repairs of the north breach was tabled.
“There are some points that need to be clarified,” Commissioner President Tony Wichman said during the meeting.
County attorney Grant Swartzentruber and attorney Bruce Smith, representing the Bennington Levee Board, said the suit is still pending on the larger breach on the south portion of the levee.
“It gets a major piece of this issue resolved,” Swartzentruber said. “It is a big problem and we have addressed a major portion of it with the north breach (settlement).”
The south breach is estimated to be $2 million to repair, according to earlier reports. Smith and Swartzentruber said negotiations are still ongoing with settlement on the south breach.
“Before (Bennington Levee) can bid for work on the south breach, they have to get permits from the (Army Corps of Engineers) and the (state Department of Natural Resources),” Smith said. “They have not got these permits yet, but are trying to get them.”
When the bids and permit process are finished, then settlement talks could begin on the south breach, Smith explained.
Swartzentruber said work will begin soon on the north breach and everything should be finished by the end of the year.
“There’s nine issues that the corps is requiring to be back in compliance. (The repairs on) the north, south and the nine items have to be completed this year,” Swartzenbruber said.
“Bennington Levee has made a resolution that would happen.”
According to court filings, Villwock and Bowman own land next to the levee and on December 2010they contracted Shepard to dig a mile-long ditch at the base of the levee, destabilizing the levee. After heavy spring rains, the levee broke on March 6, 2011. Lamar was later added to the suit this June.
The defendants are alleged to not have informed the county or conducted any engineering studies before digging into the levee.
Wichman said after he is “glad to be at this point,” but could not say much due to the continued litigation for the south breach.
“We feel like it is an advantage on where we’re at,” Wichman said.
Council President Mike Sprinkle echoed Wichman’s sentiments.
“I wish we could have got a full settlement in the full amount to fix these problems, but at this point and time, this might be the best we can do to get the issues resolved and get the repairs to Bennington Levee,” Sprinkle said.
Attorneys for the defendants involved were contacted and either were unavailableor refused comment due to the ongoing negotiations for the south side of the levee. A message was left with Villwock for comment.
The county dropped its suit with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service in June.
Wichman, Sprinkle and the attorneys are meeting with the Bennington Levee board in mediation on Monday to discuss further repairs.