Stephens City asks for jury trial in lawsuit

Stephens City is asking for a jury trial in its long-standing lawsuit against the Frederick County Sanitation Authority.

The motion was filed recently in Frederick County Circuit Court.

“Taking this dispute to court was never our preferred path but the town felt it had little choice, given the lack of progress being made in negotiations,” said Town Manager Mike Majher.

Negotiations stopped last year as court proceedings continued. At the August Town Council meeting, however, the council made a resolution stating it was still willing to meet and hold discussions with the Frederick County Sanitation Authority.

Calls made on Monday afternoon and Tuesday to the authority, as well as its attorneys, were not returned

Stephens City filed the lawsuit against the authority in 2015 asking for $1 million in damages. The town entered into an agreement on Dec. 9, 1991 to allow the county to use 3 million gallons a year of the town’s water supply, found in three reservoirs. This was in exchange to cover the cost for the county building a new water treatment plant. Those reservoirs are within the Public Water Supply Protection District.

Town administrators and Town Council members believed the term was to be for no more than 20 years. The county is arguing the agreement was in perpetuity.

The town also alleges:

  1. There are errors with the Frederick County billing to the town. Stephen’s City is still determining the extent of what they argue was over billing.
  2. The county has been routinely pulling more than the agreed upon 3 million gallons —  threatening the underground aquifers. According to figures provided by the town, the county has pulled 1.9 billion gallons of water from when it began pulling water in March 2015 to date. The county should have paid an additional $1.9 million without interest, the town says. If the town charged the authority 10 percent interest (the same amount of interest the county is charging the town ,then the amount soars to more than $10.3 million.)
  3. The county drilled an illegal well “the Bartonsville Well,” just outside of the town limits and within the borders of the protected zone, that taps into the aquifers. Stephens City police shut down the well on Aug. 7, 2015. The town alleges the county, however, began to reuse the well, simply diverting the water directly into the county’s water treatment plant and avoiding the reservoirs.

The county argues that most of the town’s claims have been dismissed and so should the lawsuit.

Among the rejected claims was the town’s argument that the agreements were invalid because they were allegedly adopted without observing all of the requirements that generally apply to sales of certain property rights held by towns, the authority states. The court agreed with Frederick Water that these requirements did not apply to the transfers between the town and Frederick Water, which is another political subdivision of the commonwealth. As before, the court rejected and dismissed the town’s claim that Frederick Water’s right to pump water from the quarries had expired, according to prepared statements from the authority. Frederick County is seeking dismissal of the case.

The next court date is Dec.12, Majher said.