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KANSAS CITY — Lots of attorneys and some land owners gathered in an eighth floor federal courtroom for the opening statements in a multi-million dollar lawsuit seeking damages from the U.S. government for flooding of Missouri River bottom lands.

Senior Judge Nancy Firestone ordered both sides to outline the basics of their complaint, the defense, possible legal issues, witnesses and other matters in the case of Ideker Farms et.al. versus the United States of America. The St. Joseph office of the Polsinelli law firm has been retained to represent 382 plaintiffs. Retired Judge Eddie Smith, a member of the law firm, told the federal judge Thursday the lawsuit involves hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

Lawyers are seeking to prove the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers significantly changed the way it manages and operates the entire Missouri River system. As a result of this change, landowners like Roger and Ronald Ideker had personal and real property taken from them without just compensation.

Thursday, the government revealed its defense.

The Missouri River is a dynamic system and the Corps doesn’t and can’t guarantee there wont be flooding, said Terry Petrie, the Department of Justice lead attorney. The river is beyond control of the Army Corps because of issues like topography, weather and tributaries; especially those below the dam at Gavins Point, Petrie said.

Land owners living in the flood plain, especially those behind a levee, should know the area might flood, Petrie said.

But the plaintiffs, who have seen more than 20 million documents already filed in this lawsuit, have their experts and studies, which will strongly disagree with the government.

Thursday morning, Smith outlined details of how the Corps changed the process in 2004 when they introduced a revised Missouri River Master Manual, which details how the Corps manages its systems of dams and reservoirs.

This is a water invasion case seeking just compensation for the taking of property for a public purpose, Smith said.

R. Dan Bouleware, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, showed how until 2004, the Corps succeeded in taming the Missouri River with limited flooding and created a successful 9-foot-deep channel stretching 300 feet wide for river navigation.

And that’s the way it was until a federal court ordered the Corps to make mandatory changes to benefit fish and wildlife, Smith said.

All evidence, discovery and depositions have been ordered to be completed by mid-November. A six- to eight-week bench trial should begin sometime in March before Firestone. It’s doubtful a decision will be rendered by the judge before the summer 2017.

Marshall White can be reached at marshall.white@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWhite.

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