The owner of a Woodbridge mobile home park sued Prince William County for $8 million Thursday, alleging it failed to prevent flooding in an area county officials had long known suffered from man-made problems that exacerbated the issue.
Holly Acres Mobile Home Park was inundated on September 8 as Tropical Storm Lee pummeled Northern Virginia. Trailers were swept away as the nearby Marumsco Creek rose. Dozens of people from the low income, largely Latino community were left homeless as a result.
Holly Acres alleges in the suit that the consequences from the September storm were avoidable, and that county officials acted improperly when trailers were condemned and bulldozed in the aftermath of the storm. The county has not allowed the homes to be rebuilt, a key source of contention.
“What they were really trying to do is shift the burden …rather than taking care of the problem,” said Mark Moorstein, an attorney for Holly Acres’ owner Henry “Hank” Ridge.
The county does not generally comment on legal issues, said spokesman Jason Grant, who said he had not yet seen the lawsuit.
The lawsuit argues that the county should have known that an area culvert and berm controlled by CSX railroad were ill-equipped to deal with the amount of water that entered the area. The 40-foot berm “acts as a dam,” the lawsuit says, and the culvert is too small due to stormwater runoff from upstream development. The county should have demanded changes, the lawsuit says.
The dispute over the Holly Acres flooding is also at the center of another court case. The Board of County Supervisors last month appealed a decision by the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals regarding the park. The BZA panel, which is appointed by the local Circuit Court, unanimously decided that the county had erred when it ordered the mobile homes destroyed and also said officials’ decision not to allow Holly Acres to rebuild was improper.
County officials, however, have said the county cannot allow the homes to be rebuilt for several reasons. The locality could be kicked out of the FEMA flood insurance program, all county homeowners would be hit with an increase in premiums, and residents would have trouble getting homeowners insurance, they say.
County officials said they also worried they would not be able to apply for FEMA disaster relief. Prince William is applying for about $200,000 at minimum in relief from the federal government for Tropical Storm Lee.
Moorstein said he would file a motion to join the lawsuit with the zoning case in Circuit Court.