Amado business owners have filed lawsuits against the Arizona Department of Transportation alleging the agency's failure to clean out sediment under a bridge resulted in flooding and damage to their properties.
John Benck, the owner of Amado Feed and Pet Supply and Amado Westside RV Storage, and Lynn Greenes and Frank Bertolino, the operator/owner of The Cow Palace Restaurant, filed their suits July 8 and June 13, respectively, after ADOT failed to respond to claims filed in February.
Benck had sought $430,000 in his claim; Bertolino and Greenes asked for more than $2.5 million.
Tim Tait, communications director for ADOT, said Monday the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Tucson attorney Robert Fee said experts hired by his clients, Greenes and Bertolino, agree that five to 10 feet of excess sediment and vegetation had built up in two culverts under Sopori Wash Bridge. The culverts were supposed to have 15 feet of clearance, but when it rained Sept. 2, 2018, that sediment "significantly reduced" the amount of flood water that could flow under the bridge, according to the lawsuits.
As a result, the bridge "acted like a dam, causing the storm water to be directed toward either side of the bridge and flow outside the Sopori Wash floodway," and it flooded Benck's property, along with several others, according to the Benck lawsuit.
Both lawsuits allege the flood waters, debris and mud pushed through the businesses, causing extensive damage to the structures and contents.
Phoenix attorney Lawrence Moon, who represents Greenes and Bertolino, alleged in their lawsuit that four feet of water was left inside The Cow Palace, a restaurant built in the 1920s that, thanks to two additions in the '50s and '90s, had more than 9,000 square feet.
"Several feet" of water was inside Benck's businesses, but it also pushed RVs and equipment around his property, his lawsuit states.
On Monday, Fee said he and Moon plan to file a motion to consolidate their lawsuits into one. All plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and consequential damages "in an amount to be proven at trial"; Bertolino and Greenes are also seeking unspecified punitive damages.
In the days after the flooding, the National Weather Service and Pima County’s Regional Flood Control District said five to six inches of rain fell in the area in a short period of time.
Greenes and Bartolino quoted Green Valley News stories throughout their claim. The newspaper reported that Pima County Regional Flood Control District officials blamed the sediment and heavy rain. The newspaper also reported that ADOT records do not reflect any maintenance under the bridge from September 2008 through April 2018.
ADOT Director John Halikowski has ignored several requests for an interview, but in an unsigned email sent to the Green Valley News in December, the department said it wouldn’t be unusual for a bridge to go unmaintained for 10 years “or for even a longer period.”
The email also said that although ADOT cleaned out the culvert a couple of months after the flood, the agency doesn't believe “this work would have changed the result of the flooding that occurred Sept. 3 had it been done prior to the event.”