Pond owner says Lee’s Summit’s handling of fish kill stinks

08/13/2013 2:15 PM

08/13/2013 2:15 PM

Blue herons used to spend hours fishing in Verl Mason’s pond just outside Lee’s Summit. He could sit on his deck overlooking the pond for hours watching the birds filling their gullets.

Now they stalk once around the quarter-acre pond and take flight, Mason said. He can imagine them shaking their heads thinking, “What happened?”

What happened was a Lee’s Summit water main break just across County Line Road, east of Pryor Road, which poured chlorinated water into his pond.

Nearly 1,200 bass, bluegill, catfish or grass carp died because of the chlorine, according reports from the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Department of Natural Resources, which ran tests on the fish. Because it was private water, those agencies took no further action.

It’s been nearly a year since the fish kill on Sept. 7, 2012, and Mason still hasn’t gotten any compensation. The city’s insurance company rejected his claim. His family and friends can’t enjoy fishing the pond.

Mason said that after the leak, he waited several days for officials to inspect the damage. He hoped someone would take charge of cleanup, but after four days he began raking rotting fish out of the water and shoveling them into plastic bags.

“The smell was horrible,” Mason said.

He said he expects it to cost about $1,000 to restock the pond and take several years for the fish to grow to sizes for angling.

The Lee’s Summit Water Utilities acknowledged the break, saying in statement it responded quickly to fix the break and restore water service to customers, and said it had received the complaint about the fish kill from Mason.

“The City relied on its insurance carrier to investigate and make a determination as to liability with respect to the incident. This investigation concluded the City was not liable,” the utility’s response said.

OneBeacon Insurance Group sent Mason a response, which he provided to a reporter, saying the city utility isn’t liable because city crews:

• Weren’t working on the line at the time of the break

• Mason hadn’t given the city prior notice of a hazardous condition

• Rsponse time was 2 1/2 hours.

Mason said the response time was more like 3 1/2 hours. Initially his wife had notified a water district, which in turn called the city, but he really disputes the first two reasons.

Mason said it’s a ridiculous standard to say he should have informed the city of a potential water-main break killing his fish before it happened. And it was a faulty line that broke.

He said his lawyer has told him his case would be a “slam-dunk” in court, but the insurance company knows it’s not practical to sue because of the small amount of money involved.

A spokeswoman for OneBeacon declined to comment, saying the company does not normally talk about individual claims.

Mason said he was surprised at the attitude of the city -- just turning the problem over to insurance.

“I love Lee’s Summit. I lived there,” Mason said. “Their insurance company is doing them a disservice at this point. They just hope it goes away. I just want somebody to take responsibility.”


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