The stormwater channel behind Josh Hague's house in Mahtomedi resembled a dried-up creek on a recent sunny day, but as he tells it, even a half-inch of rain brings a torrent of water that floods his backyard.
On Wednesday, Hague and his attorney, Andrew Pieper, inspected the channel where it meanders through private property in the city's Glenmar neighborhood.
"It's like a rushing river," Pieper said. "It comes so fast and with so much force, I wouldn't want to step in it."
Hague and owners of four other adjacent properties sued the city in November 2016, alleging that flooding was worse since completion of a $1.5 million street and drainage improvement project that began four years earlier. Under a settlement reached in June after 14 hours of negotiations, they dropped the lawsuit in exchange for a $600,000 payment to homeowners to divide among themselves, plus the city's commitment to completing timely repairs.
Now, the homeowners contend the city has defaulted on that agreement. They've gone to Washington County District Court with a motion that asks Judge Gary Schurrer to enforce it. A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 27 in Stillwater.
"After causing numerous, lengthy delays in finalizing settlement documents with the homeowners, the city now wants to walk back its unambiguous agreement ... claiming that it was not bound by the settlement," the plaintiffs say in a court filing.
The city of Mahtomedi, meanwhile, was "extremely disappointed" that homeowners took the latest legal action and denies breaking the June agreement, City Attorney Jason Kuboushek said Thursday. Occasional flooding existed before the project, he said, and the city continues to seek a solution.
"They're fully aware that we're still working on it," Kuboushek said. "It's the city's goal that we would have potential fixes by the end of the year."
The plaintiffs are Hague and Alyssa McNeal, Scott and Paula Bauer, Maurice and Celeste Campbell, Scott Barrette, and Ken Durand. Their backyards converge in an area bordered by Warner Avenue on the west, Fernwood Place on the south and Dartmoor Road on the east.
The drainage channel skirts several backyards to Hague's property, where it enters a grated below-ground culvert that funnels water under Warner, one of the rebuilt streets. Hague, who has four young children, said the culvert can't handle the volume of water rushing toward it, resulting in a lake that floods into the lower level of his house.
"It's bad when your kids go, 'Is our house going to flood again?' It's terrible for them to be fearful," he said.
But the city, in its latest court filing, said much of the flooding is caused by stormwater runoff from the neighbors' yards, not the new streets. Debris that washed into the culvert, blocking it, included firewood, Kuboushek said.
The motion seeking enforcement of the settlement "is ill-conceived, a waste of the parties' and judicial resources, and should be summarily denied," the city said in its response.
Pieper said the long-standing dispute amounts to government intrusion on homeowners' property.
"They just want to have this problem, not of their own making, resolved so they can move on with their lives. They're saddled with properties that have this repeated flooding issue," he said.
Kuboushek, meanwhile, said the city intends to honor its promises: "We're trying to design a fix to eliminate any future flooding in this area."