A small group of Maryland homeowners have settled their legal battle with Prince George’s County two years after a landslide ruptured the main road and destabilized homes in their Fort Washington neighborhood.
A slope failure in the Piscataway Hills community displaced homeowners for weeks and some were never able to return after the side of a steep hill collapsed in May 2014 sending rocks, trees and dirt tumbling down its face. Construction work to stabilize the hillside required the demolition of a handful of homes built on top of it. That work was completed this spring and is among the most expensive disasters in county government history.
While the majority of the 28 impacted homeowners celebrated the reopening of the damaged road this week with elected officials, three of their neighbors are only beginning to recoup from a legal battle over fair compensation for the loss of their properties.
“It was a long road but in the end, all the homeowners received a satisfactory settlement,” said attorney Joseph P. Suntum, who represented the group that sued the county. “It will help them get on with their lives.”
Suntum did not disclose the details of the settlement but said Prince George’s officials would use FEMA disaster funds to reimburse the homeowners, who also won additional compensation from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.
“It will all be behind us soon,” said Leonard Caveny, who with his wife, Joyce, were forced to move out of their Prince George’s home into a new one they bought in Dunkirk, Md.
Meanwhile, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s) and Rep. Steny L. Hoyer (D-Md.) visited the neighborhood Monday for a ceremony to reopen the roadway and declare it Piscataway Hills Day.
“I don’t know how many of you thought there was going to be a day like some, some many months ago when Mother Nature struck and struck harder than anybody contemplated it striking,” Hoyer said. “It looked pretty bleak.”
Asking all the residents in the seated audience to raise their hands, Hoyer pointed at them saying, “You kept the faith.”
For more than 18 months, residents lost access to the neighborhood’s main road while workers moved forward on a $15 million reconstruction project. Neighbors banded together to mitigate the inconvenience of power outages, interruptions to water and sewer service, and walking through the woods as alternate routes to their homes.
Transportation officials and engineers cleared five homes resting on top of the failed slope and drilled large structural beams into the earth to stabilize it. Caveny was one of the homeowners on the hill who fought against the condemnation of his home.
A judge denied their petition last June for a restraining order to stop the construction project until Caveny and a few other families got a chance to prove the county was responsible for the disaster and should pay up. They homeowners signed off on a compensation package Monday.
“I am happy for the neighborhood,” said Tracy Rookard, whose property was one of the five demolished in the construction. “But I lost my home.”