Canadian County woman awaits Jensen Road drainage repair

Civil lawsuit settled but county still faces Nov. 1 deadline

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Rhonda Steenbergen

By Conrad Dudderar
Staff Writer

Although a lawsuit over property damage caused by flooding has been settled, a Canadian County woman is waiting anxiously for county officials to remedy drainage issues near her home.

Rhonda Steenbergen lives between Yukon and El Reno on Jensen Road, west Manning Road on the south side of Interstate 40.

She was lead plaintiff in a civil action filed in November 2019 in Canadian County District Court alleging negligence by a Canadian County commissioner, county contractors and engineers in a Jensen Road construction project.

Damage to Steenbergen’s property occurred during heavy rains in spring 2019, according to court documents.

“The lawsuit is settled,” Steenbergen said. “It wasn’t dismissed because I allowed them six months to get the road fixed; to get the drainage issues fixed. So, they have until November 1 to get everything fixed.

“If it’s not fixed after November 1, then we have to ‘go at it again’. Because I’ve been flooded five times. … They have to correct that.”

In the lawsuit, plaintiffs’ attorneys claimed the property flooded because of the “negligent design, construction and maintenance” of Jensen Road and drains or culverts on the road:

“Plaintiffs’ property was flooded as a result of the defendants’ interference, diversion, obstruction, and unnatural discharge of the natural flow of water.”

The proposed damage occurred several months after a Canadian County District 3 contractor completed construction along a section of Jensen Road from Banner Road to one-half mile west of Evans Road.

When county contractor crews repaved Jensen Road, Steenbergen said they raised the road about 12 inches.

“When they did that, they didn’t take into consideration the drainage,” she said. “So, I was getting water coming from the west and water coming from the south.

“It was all just damning right there at my property. … They just didn’t put the right size tinhorns in, and enough of them.”

‘FLASH FLOOD CONDITIONS’

In their response to the lawsuit, Canadian County’s attorneys noted the plaintiffs’ home sits at a lower elevation than Jensen Road and is relatively close to the road.

The defendant cited “significant rains” that fell in May 2019:

“These rains caused reported flash flood conditions in El Reno near plaintiffs’ home,” according to court documents. “Plaintiffs’ home experienced flooding following these rains and this lawsuit resulted.”

Rains totaling 16.08 inches were of “incredible force” and “unlike any rains for the past several years,” the defendants’ attorneys wrote in a court brief.

“The combination of the May 2019 deluge and plaintiffs’ low-lying property created a perfect storm for flooding.”

Steenbergen scoffed at the argument that the rainfall amount in May and June 2019 was the reason her property flooded.

“We had had more rain than that in past years,” she said. “My property had never flooded, had never had any flood issues at all until they put in this new road.

“The road itself is awesome. But when it started causing me flood issues, then the road didn’t look so awesome.”

As part of the mediated settlement, plaintiff’s attorney William F. Johnston on May 2 had filed a “dismissal with prejudice” to dismiss claims against Canadian County Commissioners in this lawsuit.

Claims against the co-defendants Haskell Lemon Construction, Arrowhead Engineering and CEC Corporation were dismissed in 2020.

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‘NO GUARANTEES’

In response to the settlement agreement, District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart said, “We are going to try to do as much as possible to make the drainage a better situation.

“But there’s no guarantees it will be 100% fixed should we receive the type of flooding we had.”

Stewart earlier referred to “torrential” and “unusual” rains that fell during May and June 2019, causing flooding in “many areas” across Canadian County.

“We’ve never had flooding like that,” Stewart said in a previous interview. “The interstate was under water. Jensen Road west of our project that wasn’t rebuilt was under water. Everything was under water.”

A financial settlement was reached “at the end of the day” in the mediation hearing, according to Steenbergen.

“When we went to mediation, my main goal was to get the road fixed,” she emphasized.

The undisclosed settlement amount was one-third of what the Canadian County property owner had sought in the lawsuit for damages.

Steenbergen said she agreed to the settlement offer “on the day of mediation” after promises were made by county representatives to repair the road so her property doesn’t flood.

“I was tired of it,” she said. “My house had a lot of damage, and I still don’t know how much damage.

“I haven’t cut into the walls. And I’m not going to do anything until I know the road is fixed.”

The county threatened to use eminent domain “as a tactic” to settle the case, Steenbergen added.

The only reason this lawsuit was filed in Canadian County District Court was because she said she was getting tired of “being put off” in her effort to have the drainage problems resolved.

Referring to her “depreciated” property value, now all Steenbergen wants is for Canadian County officials to “get it fixed” by Nov. 1.

“To have your house surrounded by water is not something you enjoy waking up to,” she said.