Board hears requests for water

Friday, May 23, 2008

Faced with another petition for water service, Marshall County's Board of Public Utilities on Tuesday learned its attorney might be offering a judge the opportunity to make new law next month.

The petition came from Harold Bradford on behalf of more than a dozen households near Peters-burg, where the rural residents said many of them hauled water for months in 2007. Many springs and wells are becoming weaker as the water table falls.

Water utilities frequently receive petitions for service and Board Chairman Rocky Bowden told Bradford money might be left over from a major water line project that's under way in the southern part of the county. Therefore, requests like Bradford's will be considered when the current project is complete.

Meanwhile, Lewisburg-based attorney Cecilia Spivey, the utility's lawyer, explained that the extension of water service to properties improves their value. As a result, she believes that should be taken into consideration when a court is ruling on a landowner's request for compensation for damages when pipelines are laid across their property.

Installation of water pipes in trenches might require removal of trees, shrubs, or driveway pavement, and while Spivey didn't go into great detail, she acknowledged some property owners don't always grant utility rights of way at no charge. Often enough, utilities do ask property owners for such access as part of deliberations toward the extension of water service.

Conflict over such issues ends up in court through a condemnation suit in which a utility exercises the age-old authority of eminent domain. That's the government's power to take something for the greater good.

The U.S. Constitution, however, requires compensation. It's as old as Gen. George Washington having to pay for use of a farmer's barn to billet his troops.

For Spivey, though, "The question is, when you put water lines in, you have to pay for the damage to the property, but in this case, it increased the value of the property."

She declined to name the prospective defendant, but said about 1,500 feet of pipe was laid along Brown Shop Road.

Whether availability of water service should counterbalance a property owner's claim of losses from water pipeline construction will apparently become a question for Marshall County Circuit Court Judge Lee Russell, Spivey indicated.