PERU- Residents in a housing addition near Peru are asking the Indiana Supreme Court to overturn a decision which puts them on the hook to repair six deteriorating dams that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix.
In April, the Indiana Court of Appeals overturned a ruling issued last year by a Marion County judge that said Miami County was fully responsible for repairing the structures located in Hidden Hills, since all six dams have roads running over them which were accepted into the county road system.
“The County accepted the duty to maintain the roads when it accepted the roads into the county highway system,” Judge P.J. Dietrick wrote in his ruling. “This maintenance also includes the responsibility to maintain the structure upon which the roads were built.”
But the appeals court rejected that argument, saying the county is only responsible for the roads, and the homeowners are responsible for the dams on which the roads sit.
“Only the Owners have an interest in the property ‘upon which’ the dams are located, and only they have a duty to repair or reconstruct the dams,” the court said. “The County has only an easement interest in the roads on top of the dams, and it is obligated to maintain only the roads.”
Now, homeowners are asking the Indiana Supreme Court to take up their case and overturn that decision.
“Despite its claims to the contrary, Miami County has more than an interest in maintaining a layer of asphalt,” wrote the homeowners’ attorney in a brief. “Miami County holds right, title, and interest in the property upon which the dams are located and an actual ownership interest in the dams themselves.”
Larry West, a Miami County commissioner who also owns property on one of the dams, said the move to get the supreme court to hear their case is a last-ditch effort to overturn the ruling, since the court only takes on about 10% of the cases submitted for review.
“That’s not a very good shot, but it was worth it I guess,” he said.
West said homeowners have also brought on Logansport-based attorney Mark Leeman to make their pitch to the court. He said Leeman has experience arguing against the state on dam issues.
If the state supreme court doesn’t hear the case, homeowners are preparing a plan to fund the repairs of the dams. West said they are looking at forming a conservancy district, which could tax residents who own property on the dams. The taxes would pay to fix the structures.
Russ Bellar, who developed the housing addition back in the 1990s, has also donated 11 lots in the subdivision to a new nonprofit organization called Hidden Hills Lake Preservation, and any profits made from the sale of the land will help pay for dam maintenance and repairs.
The need for those repairs was first announced in 2014 by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, which sent letters to more than 20 landowners saying they had failed to maintain the structures and keep them in safe condition. The letter was also sent to the Miami County Board of Commissioners. Since then, the property owners and county have fought the decision.