Ginger Bonnett

Ginger Bonnett stands in an empty garage that housed her vehicle and other possessions that were destroyed in the July 27 Contrary Creek flood. In addition to flooding, her neighborhood experienced sporadic looting after the flood.

Ginger Bonnett stands in a empty garage filled with little but dried mud, but she considers herself one of the lucky ones.

“I did lose my car,” she said. “It was completely submerged. It was like everything was weirdly dipped in chocolate.”

But Bonnett, a lifelong South Side resident, still has a roof over her head after the Contrary Creek flood swamped her neighborhood last Monday. Looking to the yard next door, the tent and portable toilet tells a more unfortunate story.

“We lost everything,” said Marla VanHoutan. “We want to know why they let this happen.”

She holds back tears while talking to a reporter in the front yard. It is sadness mixed with anger.

“I feel it was negligence,” she said. “Someone said there were trees in the creek.”

As the water and muck is cleared, something else is beginning to emerge in this flood-damaged South Side neighborhood.

Lawyers.

In the wake of the localized but intense flooding, South Side residents have met with attorneys to assess possible options. The flooding damaged more than 150 homes in the low-lying neighborhood south of Alabama Street, when Contrary Creek spilled its banks following a downpour.

The area received up to 6 inches of rain in a short period, but some residents are pointing to tree debris in the creek, poorly maintained drainage ditches and overwhelmed sewers as possible culprits. The county sent an excavator to clear out one blockage in Contrary Creek during the storm last Monday.

“There’s no doubt there was debris in the creek,” said Ron Hook, Buchanan County’s Western District commissioner. “There was a lot of water. It came out of the banks above and below the blockage. That much rain was a big factor.”

Hook said the creek can get blocked from its origins near DeKalb, Missouri all the way to the Missouri River. Culprits include beavers, people who dump debris and natural erosion of the creek bank. The state and Corps of Engineers has indicated that debris jams are the responsibility of the closest property owner, with the possible exception of areas near public infrastructure like bridges.

Bonnett is skeptical of anything coming of the legal inquiries.

“There has been some different lawyers talking to us,” she said. “Personally, I think it’s sweet they’re trying to help. I don’t think they’re going to get very far. There’s no clear cut (proof) it was this person’s fault.”

Bonnett said anyone with a pickup truck and a chain saw is capable of dumping debris in the creek, which flows into the Missouri River.

“They’re all doing the same thing. They’re all cutting down trees,” she said. “They have nowhere to put the limbs and branches, so they throw them in the creek.”

One attorney who handed out cards and met with groups of neighbors did not return calls from the News-Press for this story. To date, no lawsuits have been filed.

For neighborhood residents like Bonnett and VanHoutan, the possible role of the blocked creek isn’t the only disappointment. The city learned last week that the flooding wouldn’t qualify for disaster aid from the state and federal Emergency Management Agencies.

“It’s all based on size of the event,” said Bill McMurray, the mayor of St. Joseph. “It’s a non-declared event, is how they termed it.”

On the bright side, the county has procedures that could allow some property taxes to be waived for up to six months for homeowners who aren’t in their residence because of flooding.

Greg Kozol can be reached at greg.kozol@newspressnow.com.