Saying Suffolk County and Riverhead Town officials knew for more than four decades that inadequate drainage left Horton Avenue prone to flooding, a Central Islip attorney announced he may file suit on behalf of residents left with contaminated homes by a March rainstorm.
In legal papers dated Tuesday and served on county and town officials, attorney J. Stewart Moore said neighborhood flooding was due to drainage systems that were "defective and unrepaired" despite complaints by residents starting in the 1960s.
Residents of about 15 houses were left homeless or had to continue living in contaminated homes following two days of rain that drenched the low-lying neighborhood. A handful of the affected houses were rental properties.
Thursday, all but two of the affected homes appeared to be vacant. Other residents of the area said some of the basements still have standing water.
The two-page document, a notice of claim that preserves residents' right to sue for a year, comes as county and town officials weigh options - including relocating residents or elevating their homes.
"They have faith in their governmental entities," Moore said of the residents. "However, as an attorney, I know that promises or overtures are made but they are not necessarily kept."
Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said he was "a bit surprised" that residents announced their intention to sue. He added, "It involves litigation, and I can't comment."
Horton Avenue is a town road, and Moore said the county's role is "not clear right now." But he said he believes the county had made repairs that failed to stanch flooding.
County Attorney Christine Malafi said in a statement that previous investigations of the Horton Avenue disaster "indicate that flooding is due to the water table having risen 2 1/2 feet in the past year."
Moore said he hopes to recoup about $300,000 for each homeowner. Tenants, who are not part of the notice of claim, would have to seek a share of any awards from their landlords, he said.
He said his investigation includes not only the March floods but years of pesticide runoff from nearby farms.
He said he hopes a settlement can be reached to avoid a lawsuit, which could take years to go to trial. "We pray that that can be averted," he said.
Meanwhile, county and town officials are exploring a possible swap of county- or town-owned land for the Horton Avenue properties.
But Porter Trent, 78, who has lived on the street for 50 years, said relocation of residents would break up the close-knit community.
Headache for homeowners
A two-day rainstorm on March 30-31 left 15 homes flooded on Horton Avenue in Riverhead.
Many residents were temporarily displaced; some still have not moved back to their homes. Federal emergency management officials denied a request to reimburse the county and homeowners for an estimated $70 million in losses caused by the storm.
County officials hope to relocate Horton Avenue residents to county-owned property elsewhere in the Town of Riverhead.