Memorandum Returning Without Approval a Bill for the Relief of Jerome J. and Rita J. Hartmann

October 30, 1984

I am withholding my approval of H.R. 452, a bill ``For the relief of Jerome J. Hartmann and Rita J. Hartmann.''

The purpose of the bill is to allow the Hartmanns to file an action against the United States, notwithstanding any other provision of law or order of any court or administrative body, with respect to damage suffered by them due to the rise in the water level of Avon Lake, Iowa, allegedly caused by the negligent design, construction, and operation of the Red Rock Reservoir and related levees.

Jerome J. Hartmann and Rita J. Hartmann are the owners of property near the Red Rock Dam and Lake Red Rock project in Iowa, which was constructed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and began operation in 1969. The Hartmanns' property includes Avon Lake, a former gravel quarry that the Hartmanns operated as a recreational lake.

In the spring of 1973, during a period of record rainfall and impoundment of record flood storage at Lake Red Rock, the level at Avon Lake and another nearby lake, Avondale Lake, rose to a record elevation. Operation of Avon Lake for recreation was suspended and approximately 100 homes in the area suffered some form of flood damage. By August of 1973, Lake Red Rock had returned to low levels but despite pumping of Avondale Lake by the Corps of Engineers, Avon and Avondale Lakes did not recede. In 1974, with no apparent influence whatever from Lake Red Rock, the levels at Avon and Avondale Lakes rose to new highs. The waters did not recede to normal levels until after 1974.

While I sympathize with the Hartmanns and all others who suffer losses from flood waters, I am compelled to withhold my approval of H.R. 452 on several grounds.

First, the Corps attempted to determine the cause of the rise in water levels at Avon and Avondale Lakes. The geology of the area was reexamined and water levels were monitored. A casual relationship between the Federal project and the fluctuations in water elevation levels at the private lakes has not been established.

Second, over fifty years ago, when it was embarking on a major program to build flood control projects, the Congress established Federal immunity (33 U.S.C. 702(c)) against claims for incidental or periodic flood damages that might be associated with such projects in recognition that these projects yield broad and substantial societal and economic benefits for the country.

Over the years, the Executive branch and the Congress have viewed this immunity as essential to continued Federal involvement in the area of flood control. Contrary to this long-standing national policy, H.R. 452 would establish an undesirable precedent and grant preferential treatment to the Hartmanns over residents of the area who may have similarly suffered flood damages. The circumstances of this case clearly do not warrant special treatment for the Hartmanns.

Ronald Reagan

The White House,

October 30, 1984.