JONESBORO — A federal court jury has awarded owners of farmland along the Cache River more than $360,000 in damages caused by a Lawrence County bridge project.
The farm families who own land in Lawrence and Craighead counties filed their complaint in October 2017, claiming then-County Judge Alex Latham had illegally constructed a new bridge over the West Cache River Slough on Lawrence County Road 717.
The new bridge replaced an old wooden structure that was set on pillars and had allowed passage of flood and stage waters. It was built in August 1997, a month after what is now the Arkansas Department of Transportation issued an inspection report showing numerous deficiencies.
The landowners claimed the new structure was a crude dirt and concrete embankment that had four rail boxcars acting as culverts to pass the entire flow in the slough. The culverts soon filled with sediment and debris, making it more of a dam and caused increased flooding and decreased crop yield, according to the complaint.
The jury determined Monday, following a weeklong trial, that the additional flooding caused by the new bridge amounted to the county taking part of their land, according to online records.
The landowners said the county failed to seek proper permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, nor were professional engineers consulted before building the new structure. But the county’s attorneys argued the bridge “was legally placed and remains a permitted bridge under the authority of the United States Army Corps of Engineers.” The corps issued a permit in 2003 indicating the bridge was in compliance with federal regulations, the attorneys said.
Here’s what the jury determined the county should pay the plaintiffs:
Cleo and Brenda Watkins, $34,301.22.
Brenda Watkins, $102,099.31.
Pyles FamilyFarms, $47,984.66.
Victor and Alvella Hutcheson, $16,332.03.
Helen Knight, $14,831.11.
Michael Watkins, $55,049.60.
Betty Watkins, $50,826.24.
George Carney, $25,035.48.
U.S. District Judge Kristine G. Baker presided over the trial.