City sued over water territory
Representatives of Douglas County Rural Water District No. 4 filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal district court attempting to protect its boundaries from the city of Eudora.
The suit comes after several meetings between city officials and water district representatives to decide who would provide service to areas south of Kansas Highway 10 and east of Douglas County Road 1061 brought into the city through a series of annexations in the last year.
Steve Harris, lead counsel for the water district, said at issue was the protection federal law provided to those water districts participating in a federal guaranteed loan program. The water district borrowed $227,400 through a federal revolving loan program in 2004 for water line improvements and the installation of a pump station.
Federal law protects water districts taking part in the guaranteed loan program from competition in its service area from cities or other public bodies, he wrote a brief filed Sept. 27 with the Kansas City, Kan., U.S. District Court.
Harris said the water district went to court after city officials threatened legal action against the district if negotiated progress wasn't made.
"That left the water district no choice," he said. "It was clear there was going to be litigation."
Eudora is defending its right to expand, City Attorney Curtis Tideman said.
He maintained the city had a right to negotiate a fair price to provide water to the area as part of a Kansas statute.
The state statutory process requires the city to come to terms with the water district for facilities within the annexed territory. If the two parties can't agree on a price, then each side is required to hire an appraiser. The two appraisers, along with a third outside appraisedetermine a value for the facilities in question.
At least two appraisers must then agree to a set price.
Either the city or district can then challenge the appraisal in state district court.
The water district's suit will cause delays to projects south of K-10, Eudora City Administrator Cheryl Beatty said. Work on the 22-home Fairfield Addition already has ceased because of the dispute, she said.
"It could be extremely harmful to the growth of the Eudora and our ability to serve our customers," Beatty said.
In addition, the suit could delay work on Lawrence Memorial Hospital's planned medical plaza and a possible assisted living community in the area south of the highway, Beatty said.
That shouldn't be the case, water district administrator Scott Schultz said. The water district has plans to serve Eudora's southern growth, he said.
"I think our plan is to serve our territory as development comes in whether they be rural or urban," he said.
The commercial development included in current LMH plans should not be a problem, Schultz said.
"Those look like fairly standard commercial business buildings to me as opposed to say a full-scale hospital," Schultz said. "So that water usage will not be substantially high on a per-meter or a per-unit basis."
The 70 square mile district obtains water from Lawrence, Baldwin and Consolidated Rural Water District No. 6 in Johnson County, Schultz said.
Eudora Mayor Tom Pyle expressed doubts about the water district's plans to serve Eudora.
"They're too far-flung," Pyle said.
The water district provides service to much of rural eastern Douglas County. It extends from the Johnson County line in the east to Douglas County Road 1055 in the west and from K-10 and the Wakarusa River in the north to U.S. Highway 56 in the south, surrounding Baldwin on three sides.
Pyle also questioned the water district's ability to provide adequate water for fire protection in the area.
Both sides indicated they were open to negotiation as the judicial process moves forward.
"Our suggestion to the counsel for Eudora is to encourage the members of the city council to meet face to face with the board of directors at the earliest possible date," Harris said.