City answers Plaza Towers flood suit

The Grand River in April 2013 (File Photo)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The City of Grand Rapids is firing back at owners of one of the city’s tallest buildings, who say the city’s at fault for floodwaters that forced residents out of their homes for months following historic flooding in April 2013.

Not only is the city denying blame, officials say the people who are suing are trying to get taxpayers to cover their mistakes.

City Attorney Catherine Mish was among the hundreds of volunteers who filled sandbags in an effort to protect downtown buildings and vital infrastructure.

On Monday, Mish defended the city over claims a Riverwalk passage in the city’s flood wall allowed floodwaters into the lower levels of Plaza Towers, causing millions in damage.

In a statement released by the city, officials say claims made by Plaza Towers owners are usually covered by insurance. However, they suggest Paul Huele, one of the building’s owners, of being under insured and trying to pass damage cost on to taxpayers.

“It’s unfortunate that Mr. Huele is taking an unprecendented situation and trying to blame the city for an act of nature,” said Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell.

“The irony is that the City provided extraordinary assistance to Plaza Towers in re-opening their facility to residents as soon as possible, including the issuance of a temporary occupancy permit well before final repairs were complete and helping pump water away from the building. It seems unreasonable that Plaza Towers would try to pass along these costs to the taxpayers of Grand Rapids,” said Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong.

The city denies the flood wall was to blame, saying Plaza Tower owners were aware of problems that date back to when it was built in the early 90’s that could have caused floodwaters to bubble up through the foundation.

“If there was something wrong with the construction that somehow allowed water to reach their underground parking ramp they’ve been on notice for that fact for 23 years.” says City Attorney Catherine Mish.

As for mechanical equipment damaged by the flood, Mish says owners should have had it on higher ground in the first place.

“The building’s mechanical systems are located, really below sea level at the bottom of their parking lot… which is a terrible design that lead to many of these problems.” says Mish.

All of that from city officials who usually don’t comment on pending litigation.

“It’s unfortunate the city has decided to issue such a strong statement,” said Stephen Afendoulis, the attorney representing Plaza Towers owners.

Afendoulis says the 1991 problem had a $13,000 fix and isn’t something that would lead to the 2013 flood disaster.

He says the placement of mechanical equipment, later damaged by the flood, was all up to code and the city signed off on it when Plaza Towers was built .

He denies claims by city officials that his clients are trying to get taxpayers to cover their mistakes.

“We believe that government should be responsible when it defectively designs a public project that destroys the private property of a citizen,” said Afendoulis.

No court dates have been set in the lawsuit.

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