Blackfoot water tower

One of Blackfoot’s iconic water towers.

BLACKFOOT – The Groveland Water and Sewer District (GWSD) and the City of Blackfoot face off for the first time inside a courtroom in a hearing scheduled today at 9:30 a.m.

The subject of the hearing is related to the complaint which GWSD filed last month against the city. Blackfoot has been asking for all new sewer hook-up customers, including GWSD’s, to sign an “annexation petition” as a condition of service. GWSD argues that this is a new requirement on the city’s part and represents a breach of contract.

GWSD filed its legal action only after trying to resolve their differences through mediation. The mediation session between the two public entities was in early August and it failed after GWSD was the party who decided to break off negotiations.

BACKGROUND

When new homes or businesses are built inside the district’s boundaries, the property owners must request a new hook-up directly from Blackfoot. The city will then tie the new customers physically into the system of sewage lines that lead to Blackfoot’s waste water treatment plant (WWTP).

The dispute between the GWSD and the city started in May, when a developer within the GWSD service area requested new sewer hook-ups from Blackfoot. GWSD has a contract with Blackfoot for sewage treatment at the city’s WWTP.

At the time, the developer, Scott Briscoe of the Wildflower Meadows subdivision, was asked to execute an annexation agreement as a condition for the hook-ups to the homes he was building. Briscoe refused and then approached the GWSD to protest Blackfoot’s prerequisite before he could receive sewer service from the district.

Since then, more county property owners serviced by GWSD have requested new sewer hook-ups, whereupon Blackfoot has continued to request the submission of annexation agreements as a prerequisite.

These GWSD customers include the Snake River School District which just installed a five-mile sewer line with the intent of sending their waster water to Blackfoot’s treatment plant.

THE DISPUTE

In June and July, the city and GWSD held some informal discussions followed by an exchange of letters between their respective attorneys. GWSD argued that providing an annexation agreement as a prerequisite for a new sewer hook-up was a new requirement; as such, it was therefore a breach of the terms of the 2012 contract between Blackfoot and the district. The city countered that the requirement had been city law since before 2003 and was included in the contract by inference.

The letter exchange was then followed by the failed mediation session in August. At the time, GWSD stated its intent to seek a judicial remedy. This was followed by their lawsuit filed on Sept. 13.

The paperwork for the lawsuit clearly stated GWSD’s objective of pursuing both damages against the city and an injunction to halt the forced collection of signed annexation petitions.

The attorney for GWSD, Kipp Manwaring of Idaho Falls, filed the formal request for a temporary injunction against the city on Sept. 30.

THE HEARING

Blackfoot’s city attorney, Garrett Sandow, filed two responses on Oct. 7 in reaction to GWSD actions. The first is a motion to dismiss the lawsuit outright. The brief argues that the case has no standing because GWSD has not incurred any specific harm or damage from Blackfoot’s annexation agreement prerequisite.

“This doesn’t hurt them (GWSD) at all so they have no dog in this fight,” said an unnamed source in Blackfoot’s city government. “Lawsuits in Idaho have to show both specific damages and a likelihood they will prevail in court if it goes to trial. (We believe that GWSD) can’t do either so we hope that the judge will throw the suit out in a summary judgment.”

The other action Sandow filed was an objection to the request for a preliminary injunction against the city. The injunction request is to prevent the collection of annexation agreements as a prerequisite for new sewer hook-up for county residents. If approved, collection would be banned while the lawsuit made its way through the judicial system.

The hearing to consider both these actions will take place before Seventh District Magistrate Judge Darren Simpson at the Bingham County Courthouse.