Skip to content

Couple file lawsuit against city

Doug and Catherine Goergens have filed a lawsuit against the city of Bonne Terre after they say they made several attempts to discuss work being done at the site of a city easement on their property. The couple say the project, and the pollutants it is creating, are exceeding the footprint of the easement and the agreed use of the land.

The couple owns a few properties in Bonne Terre including the Bonne Terre Mine. They also own the old St. Joe Clubhouse on Mansion Hill, and have restored the historic home. They live on the 250-acre property which happens to surround two parcels of land owned by the city of Bonne Terre that houses two wells.

The Goergens say they are concerned as property owners about the work being done by the city. Doug feels a new building being constructed to house a radionuclide filtration system and runoff from the area of the construction clearly exceeds the scope of the easement the couple previously granted the city.

“Any property owner in my position would do the same thing,” explained Doug. “It’s a violation of an easement that we granted them. That’s what the law suit is about … it’s a property rights issue. I own a considerable amount of property and I have granted the city several easements to gain access to their water wells.”

Doug said they met with Bonne Terre City Administrator Jim Eaton many months ago and discussed a large drain valve from the water tower which dumped more than 150,000 gallons of water onto their property when the well was being drained for maintenance.

“Eaton was shown the prior damage,” said Doug. “We asked them to install a diversion valve on the tank so that they would not take a chance draining the tank and eroding and flooding our property. We have received no response.”

Doug said the city won’t even talk to him. He says they just brought in machinery and started tearing up his property.

 “It’s just a total disregard for my rights as a property owner and an abuse of power,” said Doug. “The easement clearly states they don’t have a right to do what they are doing on that easement. On that property, we sold the city two plots years ago for their wells and gave them easement rights to gain access to those wells and put water lines in for the good of the community.”

Doug stressed now they are putting a water treatment plant in, which is beyond the scope of what was granted in the easement.

“We are not trying to deprive the citizens of water. We don’t even have clean potable water here,” explained Doug. “If we turn the water on here running through 100 year old (water service line) it comes out black or a dark rust color. We can’t use it. We have to bring our own water in, because they have never given us a proper water line.”

Doug said when the house was built there were four fire hydrants installed to service the clubhouse. In the 1990s the city disconnected the fire hydrants without the property owner’s knowledge.

 “We informed the city to put hydrants back in service since they were disconnected,” said Doug. “They refuse to give us a close fire hydrant like everyone else has. We have no water, no fire hydrant.” 

Catherine stressed their 100-year-old oak trees are being taken and she had perennials and wild flower gardens all along the easement road which have been destroyed.

“On a daily basis they have had four to six pieces of equipment up here and it has been noisy and alarming,” said Catherine. “It has disrupted daily life and the dogs have been frantic. They don’t tell us when they are coming and our alarms are constantly going off. They are supposed to call us to say they are coming so we know who is on our property. On several occasions we have had to contact the city about unmarked vehicles on our property.”

Catherine added when the city first started doing the latest round of work at the wells Doug informed the workers they had gone off the easement and they needed to get a surveyor because they were on private property.

“The workers responded telling us the city told them it was OK,” said Catherine. “We argued they were off the easement and a surveyor came up and we were right. After we informed them of survey error, they started having the police sit up here every day to prevent us from going on our easement, our land, hoping we would talk to workers and thus be accused of interfering.  As a 40-plus year property and business owner in Bonne Terre, it is unbelievable that Jim Eaton would dispatch his police onto our private property hoping to prevent us from getting info on their project.”

Catherine said they later discovered water lines had been installed outside of the easement.

“We had a specialty company come out and they said there are waterlines outside the easement,” explained Catherine. “They were trying to stop us from finding that out, by keeping the police up here to keep us from talking to workers.”

“We are protecting our rights as property owners and the city is trying to take advantage of our property rights,” said Doug. “We just want to negotiate and they don’t even want to discuss it.”

“It’s just irritating that our privacy has been totally invaded and we weren’t even prepared for this. They didn’t even let us know what was going to be (built) up here,” said Catherine. “The original city attorney told us they weren’t going to start any work until they got everything sorted out. We just backed off and took it to lawyers since they weren’t willing to talk with us.”

Doug claims the easement doesn’t allow for a water treatment plant. He says he isn’t trying to prevent them from building the water treatment plant, but feels the city needs to negotiate and settle with them because the city is exceeding the scope of the original easement.

“We sent letters back and forth and they wouldn’t negotiate with us at all. They own the little postage stamp properties where the wells are and that was sold to them years ago. They have access on the easement going back to those wells so they can maintain them and put water lines in and that sort of thing,” Doug explained. He described the easement as a driveway, but says the city does not have a right to put in a radionuclide pollutant drain line on his property. They fear it will diminish the value of their property.

“What they want to build exceeds the description of the easement for water ingress and egress,” said Doug. He firmly believes the project exceeds the scope of the easement and the city doesn’t have a right to put the drain line in or anything else.

“We said look, for the good of the community, I can see why we need to have this,” added Doug. “It’s become a problem, because the city needs to negotiate with us for this. They left us no choice but to file an injunction to let the court decide how to settle this.”

On another note, the Goergens added their house was recently plastered. They say due to the large equipment breaking rock on a rock shelf less than 200 yards away, vertical cracks have formed in the walls of the house.

When the city was asked about the pending lawsuit, Bonne Terre City Attorney Seth Pegram said there has been a petition filed to (block) the city from pursuing this mandated Department of Natural Resources Water Project by a private citizen. 

Work is still underway up at the Mansion Hill water tower. Workers are currently moving forward with constructing the building which will house the radionuclide filtration system. The DNR and EPA mandates that water for public systems be treated at the well location as soon as it comes out of the ground. The city is also running pipelines down to a lift station as part of the new facility.

A surveyor was reportedly brought out by the city to mark all the easement boundaries to assure the workers operate within the easement.

A court hearing has been set for Friday at 1:30 p.m., and both parties hope it is settled quickly.

Work progresses within the fence line of the water tower where a new building is being constructed for a mandated water project.

Work progresses within the fence line of the water tower where a new building is being constructed for a mandated water project.

The water tower and construction of the new building can be seen from the Goergens' front porch.

The water tower and construction of the new building can be seen from the Goergens’ front porch.

Stakes marked with pink paint can be seen up and down the easement boundary lines. An orange fence lines one side of the road near the water tower to keep workers within their boundaries.

Stakes marked with pink paint can be seen up and down the easement boundary lines. An orange fence lines one side of the road near the water tower to keep workers within their boundaries.

A line is being run along the easement from the area of the water tower down to a lift station for the radon filtration system that is being installed.

A line is being run along the easement from the area of the water tower down to a lift station for the radon filtration system that is being installed.

Renee Bronaugh is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3617 or rbronaugh@dailyjournalonline.com

Leave a Comment