Farmers and landowners say they’ve been “taken”

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HOLT COUNTY, Mo. -- Roger Ideker and his family farm 2100 acres in northwest Missouri, much of it adjoining the Missouri River in Holt County.

"The river has become a way of life for most farmers up here," he said. "Just the affects of being around it we all enjoy. But when the river's flooding and taking your property it becomes an animal you really don't like."

In 2011, that animal roared. Ideker figures all but 100 acres were under water when the Missouri River emptied onto farmland, into towns, over highways, and beyond. A classic 500 year flood, and the worst in the Missouri River Basin's history. But Ideker said it was part of a pattern.

"We do expect small floods from time to time, but we've never experienced floods like we've had in the past few years," he said.

Floods that Ideker and about 200 other plaintiffs argue are not "acts of God", but acts of the federal government. They've filed a lawsuit in the United States Court of Claims arguing that their land has effectively been "taken" from them, without just compensation, in violation of the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Named in the suit: The United States of America.

Lead attorney Dan Boulware of the Polsinelli Law Firm's St. Joseph, MO office likens it to widening a highway and needing private property to do so.

"In this case we have a water highway. It's known as the Missouri River. What the government is now doing is they're widening the Missouri River, contrary to what they said they would do for 60 years or more, and they're taking that property by flooding and not compensating," Boulware said.

That to the tune of millions of dollars every time the river floods.

The lawsuit claims farmers were lured to the basin by the 1944 Flood Control Act, and its promise of flood control methods that tamed the river and reduced flooding. The lawsuit claims that worked for more than 60 years. But later new environmental laws to protect endangered species collided in court with the original law, and environmentalists won, forcing the Corps of Engineers to return begin returning the river's flow to its original, natural state, and thus, the flooding.

"But that is the federal government, being the courts, the congress, the Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service working in tandem to basically flood the property and take it away," said Boulware. "After they had embarked on an initiative 60 years ago to say 'move in here, invest all this money and we'll protect you from the flooding.' And now they've pulled the rug out from underneath 'em. That's wrong."

The lawsuit, Boulware explained, isn't about mismanagement or negligence, but about compensating farmers and landowners for using their land to protect environmental concerns.

Ideker said farmers are environmentalists, and while he is hoping for compensation, he hopes the lawsuit will catch the attention of Congress.

"And it's our hope we can all work together to have flood control and still have a friendly environment."

Ideker said he and his family have farmed this land for 50 years, and don't want to be bought out and move. They want a balancing of environmental and economic interests that only Congress can bring to the table.

To him, the river is a way of life he won't do without.

"You know the water never stops flowing. So it has a certain amount of peacefulness to it," he lamented. "I think that's the biggest thing for me."

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