Lawmakers reluctant to referee in water disputeSen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said lawmakers “are not equipped to put on a referee shirt” as the territorial dispute between the city of Jamestown and Stutsman Rural Water District made its way into his Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday afternoon.
By: By TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said lawmakers “are not equipped to put on a referee shirt” as the territorial dispute between the city of Jamestown and Stutsman Rural Water District made its way into his Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday afternoon.
The committee found themselves listening to both parties during a hearing over House Bill 1269, which is on a fast track to provide $10.3 million for rural water grants, of which, about $9.7 million is pegged to help fund the expansion of the water district.
The Stutsman project totals about $14 million with the balance borrowed from USDA Rural Development. The current phase adds about 750 residents to the current 1,350 customers of Stutsman Rural Water in the Woodworth to Streeter area.
But Stutsman Rural Water and the city of Jamestown have been locked in a battle over which entity should be allowed to provide water to some new developments within the county.
Jamestown Mayor Katie Andersen is asking lawmakers to include an amendment that would have the state weigh in on the dispute that goes back to a 2010 agreement between the city and the water district. The amendment would add an equitable territory transfer agreement, which Andersen said is a binding document that would allow the city to grow into areas with water controlled by Stutsman Rural Water and provide compensation to the water district.
Bill sponsor Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby, said any amendments would only slow down the process for the bill, which has an emergency clause to provide the funding as soon as it passes through the Senate and is signed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple.
“Phase two and three are ready to go to bid,” Nelson said about the Stutsman County project. “But if it goes through the normal process, we will lose the 2013 construction season.”
Andersen told the committee she is not interested in holding up the water projects and would like to continue negotiations, as she believes the two bodies are close to an agreement, but the committee, in charge of the money, “does have a little leeway to say what you’d like the rural water districts do with their neighboring municipalities,” she said.
“I want to make sure they make a decision with all the information,” she said. “I’m looking for them to understand anytime they fund state tax dollars to water districts, it may have an impact on municipalities.”
Committee member Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, said the amendment is asking the Legislature to choose sides over an issue that should be handled locally.
“As a community member, I hope we can sit down and work out something,” he said. “I’m concerned that won’t happen if we put in an amendment.”
Geneva Kaiser, manager of the water district, can’t understand why Andersen turned to the Legislature for help. She said recent meetings have been going very well.
Joel Lees, member of the Stutsman County Water Resource Board, said the Legislature is not the time or place for the issue, “we can settle on it locally,” he said.
“It’s all smoke and mirrors,” Lees said of the amendment. “It just makes it worse, but they finally realized they have to do something.”
Wanzek told Lees it’s painful to watch a community divide and the negotiations are, “going to take some extra effort on your part as well.”
“I hope both sides work hard in good faith,” Wanzek said.