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Lawsuit against Duke Energy proceeds as Charlotte community confronts challenges after historic flood

Riverside Drive homeowners accuse Duke Energy of negligently operating its dams, which resulted in millions of dollars in damage.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A federal lawsuit filed against Duke Energy by homeowners along Riverside and Lake drives in Charlotte has entered the pre-trial discovery phase, ahead of the three-year anniversary of historic flooding inundating the community.

Following three days of heavy rain, the Catawba River spilled over its banks in the early morning hours of June 10, 2019, flooding homes along both streets and requiring firefighters to rescue 36 people trapped in their homes.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: "It's going to be a long, long process" | Clean-up starts for homes along Catawba River

At the time, Mountain Island Lake crested at 106.7 feet, the second-highest level on record. In 2004, the lake crested at 105.05 feet; in 1940, it reached 109.60 feet.

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Several homeowners subsequently sued Duke Energy in federal court, accusing the company of negligence for how it operated the floodgates at two of its dams, which are located upstream of the neighborhood at the edges of Mountain Island Lake and Lake Norman.

Duke Energy uses several dams in the Catawba River basin to generate electricity.

The lawsuit, which was filed in April 2020, said local meteorologists began forecasting an "extreme rain event" roughly a week before the system came through.

The lawsuit said, "Rather than slowly releasing water through its dams in anticipation of the predicted deluge, Duke chose instead to open its floodgates and release more water at one time than has ever been released."

Duke Energy is fighting the lawsuit, writing in a statement that, "Duke Energy acted appropriately and complied with its federal license governing operation of the Catawba River's dams in the face of this historic rain storm."

The statement referenced a subsequent investigation Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which found Duke Energy complied with its license.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Meck Co. flood safety tips and resources

In January, a U.S. district court judge dismissed part of the homeowners' lawsuit, but he allowed the rest of their claims to move forward.

Pre-trial discovery is scheduled to last through the middle of next year.

Neither the homeowners' attorneys nor Duke Energy agreed to be interviewed.

Paulette Williams chose not to join the lawsuit, figuring it would take years before there would be any resolution, but she’s lost all trust in Duke Energy.

"They just didn’t plan for it," Williams said. "Somebody was asleep at the wheel."

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Williams' family ended up raising their house 10 feet into the air, a process that took two years.

"I wish the house just burnt down and just let me start from scratch," Williams said. "It would've been so much easier."

Some of her neighbors are at different stages of the raising process, while Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services bought and tore down several other homes, leaving the lots empty.

Contact Brandon Golder at bgoldner@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.  

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