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Florence seeks to seize springs

Staff writer

An ongoing water fight between Florence City Council members and owners of a spring that has supplied city water for 98 years has ratcheted up and is likely headed toward a court battle.

Council members voted Monday to begin eminent domain proceedings to seize ownership of four acres owned by the DeForest family at Crystal Springs, where the city’s springhouse is situated. Council member Trayce Warner was the lone vote in opposition.

The atmosphere of city council meetings frequently has been contentious since council members voted in June to reject a 10-year, $6,000-per-year water contract offered by the DeForest family.

Eminent domain is the power of a government to condemn private property, seize ownership, and use it for public purposes. The property owner must be paid compensation and has a right to contest the action in court.

City clerk Janet Robinson said a representative of the DeForest family told council members at a July 2 meeting that the city would be in for a fight if it took this route.

Alta Vista resident and DeForest family member Linda Long said Tuesday that she was aware the council had passed a resolution to exercise eminent domain but that family members had not yet had a chance to discuss it.

The family earlier signed a contract but the city never agreed to its terms, Long said.

“We had everything signed the end of April by all the DeForest family,” Long said. “I don’t know what we’re going to end up doing.”

Because the city and DeForest family have been debating the lease terms for months, the council’s decision didn’t surprise her, she said.

“I’m not really surprised, other than people in Florence and one city councilman are opposed to it,” Long said. “I think that kind of speaks for the town. From what I understand, they don’t have the money to do this.”

Florence city attorney Randy Pankratz said if Florence and the DeForest family couldn’t resolve the water issue, the city would have a survey done, then file a petition in district court.

“The judge would typically appoint appraisers of the land in question, and the appraisers would make a report,” Pankratz said. “Then the appraisers and the parties would appear in court for hearings.”

Pankratz said he hoped any court action would move quickly.

Warner said the city had already spent more than 80 percent of the water budget for 2018.

“Simply relying on the water rate increases is not going to cover this,” Warner said. “We’re going to end up diving into the reserve fund, and that’s not what the reserve fund is for. It’s for covering an emergency.

“The city has already spent between $15,000 and $20,000 on this process, and there’s still a lot more to go. This is all just the preliminaries for the process.”

Florence mayor Bob Gayle did not return a phone call seeking comment to the newspaper.

Last modified July 25, 2018

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