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COUNTY TO PAY $1.9M IN DRAINAGE DITCH DISPUTE

Pasco attorneys recommended the settlement that will put an end to a lawsuit filed in 2007.

A dispute over a drainage ditch has ended with Pasco County agreeing to pay a total of $1.9 million in a settlement with two couples who owned the property.

Harlan and Virginia Farmer and Otto and Mary Weiner sued the county in 2007 over a ditch that flowed across their land off U.S. 19 just north of Ridge Road in Port Richey, draining 1,700 acres. The couples claimed the ditch amounted to the county condemning their property and asked for $2.9 million, plus attorneys' fees or for the county to fill in the ditch.

A judge found in 2010 that the county's action was a taking of property, but the county appealed. The couples' attorney then alleged the judge's finding was based on the county having dug the ditch "deeper and wider," a claim the county said wasn't true.

An appellate court sided with the property owners but tossed out the Weiners' $1 million "lost sale" claim. A trial to determine a dollar amount was set for July 9.

But the plaintiffs proposed a settlement that would result in a payment of $44,500 to the Weiners and $975,000 to buy the Farmers' property, plus $880,500 for attorney fees.

County attorneys recommended the settlement.

They concluded "in a best-case scenario, if the county prevailed on the subsequent appeal, the cost to defend would be approximately $150,000," Assistant County Attorney Nicki Spirtos wrote in a memo this week. A worst-case scenario would leave the county on the hook for more than $3.3 million.

A settlement of $1.9 million, she wrote, "will eliminate the risk of greater exposure while providing finality and eliminating the cost to defend." As part of the settlement, the county admits no wrongdoing or violation of law.

County commissioners approved the settlement at their meeting Tuesday. James Helinger, who represented the couples, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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