September 21, 2022 |
Saratoga Town Council held a special workshop about their ongoing legal dispute with Randy Stevens on Monday night.
Attorney Jane France lead the discussion of 13 years of litigation between the town and private property owner Randy Stevens. It began in 2009 when the town of Saratoga filed a nuisance action lawsuit against Stevens over him removing dirt from his land. The town was constructing an alleyway next to Stevens’ property at 800 River Street. Stevens was removing material along the alleyway which runs along the south side of his property.
The town said the extent of the digging put the hillside and alley in danger of collapsing. The nuisance issue went before district court Judge Wade Waldrip, who ordered the town and Stevens into mediation. The town’s current attorney, Jane France, explained the contents of 2010 Consent Decree the judge issued after hearing arguments for both sides.
The consent decree ordered the town to maintain the structural integrity of the alleyway so that storm water does not flow onto Stevens’ property. Stevens was ordered to take measures to prevent water from pooling on his property, furthering eroding the ground along the alley.
Other requirements in the decree commanded that Stevens help pay for the alleyway. The town had to agree to permanently maintain the alleyway and slopes to avoid erosion.
Another requirement in the 2010 consent decree commanded the town to construct a retaining wall using a rock gabion basket on Stevens’ property along the steep cliff face under the alleyway.
Town officials concluded the gabion basket wall would not prevent erosion. They installed a sheet steel piling wall instead, which is still in place today. France said that Judge Waldrip allowed the change to the 2010 agreement.
In 2011, the town obtained a restraining order preventing Stevens from removing dirt from alongside the alleyway at the bottom of that steel wall. The town was concerned that the digging was undermining the integrity of the wall. Two years later, Stevens sued the town for several alleged offenses.
The town was able to use their Local Government Liability Pool (LGLP) insurance to hire an attorney to defend themselves. Most of Stevens’ allegations were dismissed due to the town’s immunity under the Governmental Claims Act. This law limits what a person can sue a government entity for.
The remaining claims went before Judge Dawnessa Snyder.
Pictured above: File photo of Saratoga Town Hall/Police Department. Photo by Cali O’Hare/Bigfoot 99.
Despite the Judge’s ruling, Stevens was not able to prove any damages as required by the statute. The judge declined to award Stevens any money. The town considered this a win.
After all the legal wrangling, both the town and Stevens are still required to abide by the 2010 consent decree. France says that the consent decree is no longer working.
In February of 2021, Stevens sued the town of Saratoga to force them to uphold their part of the consent decree. The town’s lawyer at the time, Richard Rideout, said the town had done what it was supposed to do, but everyone acknowledged the steel piling wall was failing.
France took over the case last June after Rideout had to leave due to his failing health. Rideout passed away last December. France said the town and Stevens have been in negotiations since then to figure out the next step.
The town’s current administration would prefer to settle the matter once and for all to avoid more court fees and further erosion of the hillside. Councilman Ron Hutchins said Stevens is also open to working with the town to come up with a permanent solution.
During the workshop Monday, the council members said they have worked with engineers to develop various alternatives to the steel piling wall. The council was reluctant to reveal any details about the plan they intend to present to Stevens. Councilman Hutchins and the town attorney said they want to give Stevens a chance to consider the plans before they show them to the public.
During the meeting, one resident asked about the purpose of the alley which has not been developed. Councilman Jon Nelson said the town would like to retain the alley for utility use. He said the town also has plans that do not involve keeping the alley.
Councilman Nelson acknowledged the secrecy surrounding the matter has not helped. He said the workshop was to let the public know what was going on before an agreement was made between Stevens and the town.
Stevens attended the meeting. He complimented Mayor Creed James and the other council members for their hard work.
The town and Stevens have not come up with a final solution yet. Both parties are in talks to resolve the matter. The council will revisit this matter during a future town council meeting. The next court hearing on the case is November 21st. In the meantime, the Department of the Interior has issued a settlement agreement to Stevens requiring him to submit a town-approved plan for the site. He has until next month to comply.