Insurance company settles with flood victim

In November, Whistleblower wrote about Rick and Pam Grey, a couple whose retirement cabin south of Duluth suffered extensive damage in the record-breaking June flood.

Though they had flood insurance, their claim was denied by Auto-Owners Insurance, headquartered in Denver, because it said it had mistakenly issued the policy to the Greys, whose land was ineligible for federal flood insurance.

But the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) told Whistleblower that it was up to the insurance company to issue a valid policy and that companies have insurance of their own to cover any mistakes.

Two days after the article was published, Whistleblower received a letter from Auto-Owners' spokesman John Lindauer. "The Greys have a right to expect coverage. We will honor this policy with or without the support of FEMA," Lindauer wrote.

While Rick Grey declined to reveal the amount he received from Auto-Owners, he said it was "not even close" to the nearly $80,000 contractors estimated it would cost to rebuild the cabin, excluding plumbing and electrical. He found someone to haul away the cabin for free and is hoping that federal and state buyout programs that were announced at community meetings pan out.

Meanwhile, the city of Sturgeon Lake, where the Greys' property is located, enrolled in FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program last week, making Grey and his neighbors eligible for flood insurance.

But the Greys have no plans to rebuild there. "Emotionally, I can't take that. This one killed us," Rick Grey said. They are considering parking a recreational vehicle on the lot for part of the year or finding a different cabin in northern Minnesota.

"But I tell you what. I would never live on a river again. Not even close," Grey said.


Garage isn't an eyesore any longer, but it took time

Last month, Whistleblower wrote about a garage in north Minneapolis that had been a thorn in the side of neighbors for years. A car crashed into it a while back, leaving a large gash in one side. The damaged building attracted transients and drunks. Children played among the garbage inside. The hole grew early this year when a thief used his truck and a chain to pull a motorcycle out through a wall, sending studs and siding flying.

Neighbors tried to talk with those living at 2901 Dupont Av. N. about the problem and made repeated calls to the city. The city, for its part, sent out inspectors and issued citations and fines. Most citations went unaddressed and the fines unpaid. But the city said that, short of imminent hazards, it can't repair or tear down privately owned structures without the owner's permission.

Officials recently obtained permission to tear down the parts of the garage that hadn't yet succumbed to gravity or vandalism, and in early December a contractor had wiped all trace of the structure off the face of the block. It's unclear whether hazmat suits were required for removal of the knee-high debris festering inside.

"We're very excited," neighbor Mary Rice said the day the garage came down. "I just sent a little blurb to [Council Member] Diane Hofstede saying 'Garage is down, hallelujah.' "

Rice quickly moved from elation to reality. "You see it took four years," she told Whistleblower. "Every time we do something around here it takes three and four years. But we persist. And we finally get it done. This time I know it was calling the mayor and calling you. It wouldn't have happened otherwise."


No ground gained in berm battle with Blaine officials

In July, Whistleblower wrote about a protracted effort by Gerry and Margie Richels to get Blaine city hall to correct a drainage problem created when the city allowed a developer to raise the elevation of neighboring property six feet.

Water and silt washed down into the Richels' yard. The city directed the builder to undertake a series of remedial efforts: A berm that slanted at 45 degrees, ending at the property line; a new gutter; redirected downspouts, and a double row of rocks on the hillside. But the efforts failed to fix the problem.

Last year, Gary Richels proposed a solution based on his reading of city rules: A three-foot setback, a four-foot-high retaining wall and a swale leading to a city sewer nearby. The idea gained no traction.

Since the summer, the city has offered to pay a contractor $12,848 to install a natural-vegetation retaining wall along a portion of the property line, but Richels balked at signing a waiver that admitted no liability by the city and exempted it from future drainage-related claims.

"And another reason I didn't want to sign it was because the work is ... not even being done on my property. Why should I sign an agreement to have work done on someone else's property?" he said.

Richels has installed 10-inch-high cedar boards along a portion of the property line. He says sediment has collected to the boards' midpoint in spots.

"I don't know how much I can do. My wife is getting very upset with this. She wants me to just quit," Richels said.