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Georgetown flooding spurs class-action suit on behalf of restaurants

- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 21, 2011

WASHINGTON | A D.C. lawyer has filed a $5 million class-action lawsuit against the property managers at Georgetown's Washington Harbour on behalf of employees and businesses who have been affected by flooding this week.

Gary Mason of Mason LLP said he filed the suit against D.C.-based MRP Realty on behalf of Charles Holcomb, a bartender at one of five restaurants that suffered heavy damages and have been closed since the flood Monday morning. Water swamped the popular dining area, reaching as much as 10 to 12 feet in some places.

One of the floodgates designed to protect the waterfront from overflows was raised too late to prevent the flooding of restaurants and parking garages.

Mr. Mason said it was "inexcusable it wasn't done."

"The legal term is negligence," he said. "The gates are there for a reason."

MRP has issued news releases detailing its cleanup efforts, but has not offered any explanation as to why the floodgate was not raised. The company declined to comment on Thursday.

The flood has left popular restaurants Sequoia, Farmers and Fishers, Tony & Joe's Seafood Place, Nick's Riverside Grille and Cabanas at 3000 and 3050 K Street Northwest out of business heading into the Easter holiday. Mr. Mason said some of the restaurants could lose "upwards of $100,000 on a beautiful spring weekend."

He said Mr. Holcomb, who works at Farmers and Fishers, called him, and he filed the suit seeking wages and revenues for a broad class that includes the retailers, the businesses and more than a hundred hourly workers employed there. He said the dollar amount is based on projections of how long people will be out of work.

"We're very sympathetic to the hardship this is imposing on a lot of low-income people," he said.

The area on Thursday was cordoned off with tape as workers continued their cleanup efforts, and private security workers kept passers-by away from the scene. Washington Harbour's main square was clear of the high waters, but a thin layer of sandy grime left by the river remains on the walkway stones and in the empty basin of the fountains. A salty, stale odor tinged the air.

MRP has said it expected the overall cleanup of the property and the water removal from the garage levels and the fountain area would be completed by the end of the weekend.

Restaurant workers salvaging and junking equipment said they had been directed not to speak with reporters.

Walking past the line of service trucks on 31st Street Northwest, Gene Bialek, a longtime Georgetown resident and retired oceanographer, said that from what he knew "they didn't have the barriers up, or they were only partially up."

"Most of the restaurants are in really bad shape," he said.

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