N. Strabane group awarded $1.6M for pond damage

June 21, 2013
A homeowners association in North Strabane Township has been awarded $1.6 million in Washington County Court for damages to this pond caused by runoff from Canon-McMillan School District’s sports and recreation complex. - Scott Beveridge / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

A Washington County jury Thursday awarded a North Strabane Township homeowners association $1.6 million for damage to a pond in a neighborhood hit by runoff from a Canon-McMillan School District construction project.

The jury found the district violated the state Stormwater Management Act by allowing sediment from a 64-acre sports and recreational facility built in 1998 to drain along McDowell Lane and into the pond owned by Glencannon Homes Association Inc., nearly destroying it, said Canonsburg attorney Phillip J. Binotto Jr., who represented the homeowners in the case.

“The jury, they were so mad at the township and school district, they wanted to send a message they are not above the law,” Binotto said.

The jury ordered the school district to pay 40 percent of the verdict and the township 60 percent for its failure to install adequate drains along the road.

It’s believed to be one of the largest judgments ever awarded a plaintiff in Washington County, court officials said. They said it’s likely the highest Washington County Court judgment since a jury ordered Washington Hospital and two of its physicians to pay $18 million in a negligence case filed by Lori Slider of Canonsburg over the care of her son.

The jury in the Glencannon case deliberated 9 1/2 hours over two days before reaching a verdict in the eight-day trial before Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca.

The association sued the district and township in 2010 after runoff from the upstream sports complex followed an unnamed stream feeding the pond off Huntington Creek Road, causing its amount of sediment to rise from 36 percent to 57 percent, court records show. The cost to drain and remove the sediment was estimated at $250,000, the record states.

The homeowners argued the pond is a real estate marketing tool that adds to the resale value of their property. The $1.6 million will be set aside for current and future repairs, Binotto said.

Canon-McMillan School Board President Darla Bowman-Monaco said the district is weighing its option to appeal the verdict to Commonwealth Court.

“It’s going to be a trying time for Canon-McMillan,” Bowman-Monaco said.

She said the district also is facing a reduction in the amount of real estate taxes it receives under a reassessment of the value of The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane. She said local taxpayers might see a real estate tax increase next year to cover the losses.

Township Manager Frank R. Siffrinn said the board of supervisors had yet to see the verdict and would need to discuss it with legal counsel before commenting.

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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