November 8, 2023 552 PM
REDFORD — Last Tuesday, a lawsuit was filed in the 394th District Court alleging that a Redford woman’s home and property were destroyed as a result of Presidio County’s — and more specifically, Road and Bridge Supervisor Ruben Carrasco’s — failure to maintain flood control infrastructure. Barbara Baskin, represented by Attorney John Sopuch, seeks at least $250,000 in monetary relief.
After a major storm on May 27, 2023, a retention pond built and owned by the county burst, sweeping Baskin’s 10 acres along the river and historic adobe house with water. “Only luck and quick thinking prevented Ms. Baskin and her dog, Lucy, and two mules from being swept away and dying or sustaining severe injuries,” Sopuch wrote in his complaint.
The suit claims that the retention pond — if maintained correctly — was a nearly foolproof way to shield Baskin’s riverside property from flood damage. It was built by the county in 2005 to supplement old-world flood control infrastructure.
To prevent property damage in the wake of heavy monsoon rains, the retention pond — contained behind an earthen dam — drained into a spillway. Floodwater then made its way into the Rio Grande via an acequia, a historic irrigation canal dug by the original Redford land grant families a century and a half ago.
Both Presidio County and Presidio Road and Bridge Supervisor Ruben Carrasco are named as defendants in the suit, which alleges a pattern of “wrongful acts, omissions and/or negligence” committed by county employees using county equipment over the course of 13 years.
The complaint alleges that the trouble began in 2010, when then-County Judge Jerry Agan instructed Carrasco to repair damage to the access road to Baskin’s property off of County Road 18 — and to remove sediment from the retention pond, but those projects were never completed.
The issue cropped up again in 2013, when Carrasco allegedly dumped sediment into the retention pond rather than removing it, “redirect[ing] the natural flow of water and disrupt[ing] the water protection system for Ms. Baskin’s home.”
Previous County Judge Cinderela Guevara also became involved, allegedly instructing Carrasco in 2018 to make repairs to the pond and to put up signs prohibiting dumping and vehicle entry into the pond or the dam — projects which were also never completed. “Over the course of many years, Carrasco simply ignored multiple direct instructions from county judges and commissioners to make repairs,” Sopuch wrote.
Per court documents, Baskin felt that the county road leading to her property and retention pond were chronically neglected by the county because she was “vocally and publicly critical of Carrasco.” She claimed that she had heard others complain of receiving the same treatment, referred to as “satisfacción de Ruben,” or “Ruben’s revenge.” (Carrasco did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
In the first two weeks of May 2022, Carrasco began a project to raise the county road leading to Baskin’s house using a system of stacked tires. The suit alleges that the system backfired, causing the natural drainage arroyo feeding into the acequia to back up, blowing out the already-compromised dam around the retention pond.
On the night of May 27, floodwater burst through the dam. Water and debris flowed in from both sides of the road, knocking over Baskin’s gate and leaving both her field and her historic adobe home submerged in around 2 feet of water.
Sopuch visited the property in September and noted that it had not yet recovered. “Her real estate is very badly damaged,” he wrote to The Big Bend Sentinel. “It was very sad to see it.”
County Attorney Rod Ponton denied allegations of neglect on the county’s behalf, but expressed regret that Baskin felt personally victimized by the county and its Road and Bridge department. “I don’t like the county getting sued by disgruntled citizens because to me, we’re here to help people, not to hurt them,” he said.
Ponton said that the county and Carrasco would likely remain separate defendants in the suit, but rather than representing one or both parties himself, they would be referred to the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) risk pool.
The county found itself in a similar position in 2019, after the former director of the county’s Office of Management of Budget sued both the Presidio County and its county treasurer for wrongful termination.
The plaintiff hired private counsel and both defendants were assigned representation through TAC. In the end, the $700,000 payout was covered by the county’s insurance, rather than taxpayer money. “That’s why we pay into TAC every year — in case the county gets sued for money,” Ponton explained.
Though the county has a relatively high cushion of $2 million, Ponton received a sobering letter from TAC in response to that particular case, warning that the organization reserved the right to not make a payout if they could prove “fraud, dishonesty or bad faith” on the part of the county.
Ponton, Carrasco, County Judge Joe Portillo and commissioners David Beebe, Margarito Hernandez and Jose Cabezuela discussed the suit in executive session Wednesday morning. The court decided to take no action.