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Easement conflict remains

July 21, 2012
By Melissa Toothman Staff Writer , The Inter-Mountain

A local family and the city of Belington are trying to reach a fair agreement regarding a sewer and water easement conflict without having to go to court.

In order to move forward with its water and sewer project, the city is required to have ownership of the property containing a sewer and water line. The property, New Era Village, is owned by Ruth Auvil.

The sewer and water lines were installed in the 1970s to service the Barbour County Good Samaritan Center, which was built adjacent to the Auvil farm by Barbour County Reston Retirement, the lines' installer, said Ken Auvil, Ruth Auvil's brother-in-law.

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Submitted photo
The original New Era Village I is the location of the current water and sewer line, where the city of Belington needs to gain ownership to continue with a water and sewer project.

The city took over responsibility for the lines in the 1980s, said Councilman Max Groves. However, the city did not acquire ownership of the property at that time.

Ken Auvil requested sewer and water service for 2013 instead of "future capacity" promised by contract to the Auvil heirs in 1976 in Good Samaritan's free utility easement and in lieu of cash. He asked that the city install sewer and water to a newly proposed subdivision.

"It's a village project very much like New Era Village, across the road from it," said Ken Auvil.

Plans for the proposal were submitted to council June 7. Mayor Carlton "Jody" Haller did not feel he had enough time to review it and told Ken Auvil that it would be addressed at the next council meeting.

Auvil said the new subdivision project would be beneficial to both parties involved.

"The subdivision would give them a chance to annex that property. We're putting a sweetener in there so hopefully we won't go to court over it," he said.

He also explained if the city would put an extension to the sewer and water lines - estimated at about 600 to 700 feet - into another subdivision that he has proposed, Ruth Auvil would "call it even."

"We thought that would be something fair," he said.

"I have no problem with developing (the property)," said Groves, although he wasn't in favor of accepting the proposal at this time. "I would not vote for this, unless we annexed it."

Ken Auvil said that because of financing and other issues, the property could not be annexed early on, but the city could sign a contract to annex it.

"Once this project's up and going, I wouldn't see a reason why you wouldn't want to talk annexation," he said during a recent council meeting, adding the annexation could bring in the old New Era Village, the Good Samaritan Society and "the apartments over there."

Auvil said the new development would be a $3 million to $4 million project and would generate about 40 jobs with 20 proposed homes.

"The subdivision is a good thing, but it's a totally different issue from what we're dealing with," Haller said.

He said he thought his idea was "great" and "wonderful" and that it was "expanding and improving," but the city has guidelines to follow.

"I believe that running free sewer and water to that subdivision falls under the same criteria as giving you 50 taps. I don't think we can do it," Groves said.

Haller told Ken Auvil the city would be more than happy to provide him with utility service, "but there's nothing free anymore."

Ruth Auvil listed problems that had been occurred with the line such as raw sewage running onto the property, lift station leaks, health department orders and city employees coming and going.

"They've come and gone at will to solve sewage problems and that kind of thing on the property, at times have left gates open. ... this has been going on for 30 some years," Ken Auvil told The Inter-Mountain.

Problems with the water and sewer lines started occurring between 1973 and 1976, prior to the city's involvement, Groves said.

"For the city to have to pay the damages for something that wasn't ours in the beginning, I'm really having a rough time with it," Groves said.

Groves added that the city's agreement to take over the maintenance of the lines was verbal,

"There was no written agreement. It was a verbal agreement that we would actually take over that line and maintain it. We're not going to maintain any line that is faulty. It has to be in compliance with all the codes," Groves said.

The water and sewer lines were not up to code and the Public Service Commission made complaints to the city, the Auvils, and Good Samaritan Society, holding all three accountable, Groves said.

Although previous offers have been made regarding the easement, the city and Auvil have not been able to reach an agreement.

Groves said the city has asked the Auvils "several times" to "bring back a quote or a figure" of what agreement they want and "they'd see what they could do." However, Ken Auvil has not made an offer, Groves told The Inter-Mountain.

Haller said council asked Ken Auvil to make an offer two to three months ago.

Auvil said a monetary offer had not been submitted because the court-appointed commissioners on the condemnation suit had not visited the property to determine a value.



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