TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) — All 10 pending lawsuits concerning the fatal 2010 flood at Albert Pike campground are being handled by a federal court in Texarkana, Ark.
In the past week, a federal judge in Tyler, Texas, granted a motion by the government to transfer a flood case to the Texarkana division of the Western District of Arkansas.
Two cases were transferred to Texarkana from the Shreveport division of the Western District of Louisiana last year.
U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey is now presiding over all the flood suits.
When the Little Missouri River rose from 3 to more than 23 feet the night of June 11, 2010, 20 campers drowned.
The Loop D campground at Albert Pike was filled with roiling water in the predawn hours, catching campers off guard as they slept.
The dead include children, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers and friends.
The suits allege the government knew of the potential for a major flooding event but built a campground in danger's path anyway.
The suits allege a district ranger was so eager to spend $600,000 in funds meant for renovations at Albert Pike that he ignored a long and documented history of flooding and reports and recommendations from the Forest Service's experts, The Texarkana Gazette reports (http://is.gd/KOEwFC).
"(The ranger's) ...motivation to construct the Loop D campsite despite the known dangers was so strong that he not only tried to omit ... findings from the Environmental Assessment, but he intentionally... misrepresented the location of the 100-year flood zone in relation to Loop D as well," the complaint in Shumake versus the U.S. states.
The suits claim the government should have posted signs warning of the dangers of flooding according to established Forest Service policy, but did not. Poor training of staff, malfunctioning warning systems and a general failure to warn of "ultra-hazardous" conditions are among the government's liabilities, the suits allege.
The government has filed motions to dismiss in cases that have been pending for more than a few months.
The government claims the suits are barred by Arkansas' Recreational Use Statute and federal law.
But the plaintiffs who have responded to the government's position that it can't be sued for the deaths say the government's argument is being misapplied.
The government argues the recreational statute only applies to sites where an admission fee is charged. Many of the campers at Albert Pike paid a $16 fee to use campsites and RV hookups.
The government states the fee was not for admission but to offset the costs of cleaning and upkeep at the park.
The plaintiffs disagree and ask the court to at least allow some discovery, the exchange of evidence, so an accurate determination can be made.
Plaintiffs in some of the cases have also responded to the government's motion to dismiss by arguing the Arkansas Recreational Use Statute does not apply to publicly owned land.
Hickey has not ruled on the motions to dismiss.
Information from: Texarkana Gazette, http://www.texarkanagazette.com