By Sharyn Cornelius
The October 27, 2014 meeting of the Board of Directors for the Bella Vista Water District saw yet another round of the ongoing dispute between the McConnell Foundation and the District over water service to the Redding School of the Arts. The dispute centers on the fact that the landscape contractor hired by the Foundation (which built the charter school campus) created several code violations when he installed water lines designed to carry non-potable water for the irrigation system on top of and too close to the BVWD pipes that carry drinking water to the classrooms. The proximity of the two types of waterlines, plus the fact that the pipes carrying non-potable water are not property labeled, could lead to an accidental cross contamination of the public water supply.
When the District discovered the problem, it moved quickly to protect the public water supply by advising Redding School of the Arts not to charge its auxiliary water lines with non-potable water from its well and cistern, and the school complied, even though it was anxious to show off its state-of-the-art roof runoff water recycling project. Since it was impractical to insist that all the irrigation pipe be removed from the ground and replaced at safe distances from the BVWD lines, and McConnell continued to insist that the irrigation water was only well and rainwater, and the chances for cross-contamination were minimal, the District requested that they move the meter and the backflow prevention device for the school to the front of the property along Shasta View Drive. This would effectively separate the school’s water system from the rest of the Bella Vista Water District system and eliminate the possibility that any cross contamination between the irrigation lines and the drinking water would endanger the rest of the public water system.
McConnell balked at this suggestion, however, because they had designed the water service to the school with four “stub-outs” so that water lines could be extended from it to adjoining land that the Foundation wanted to develop in the future. With the meter installed at Shasta View Drive, the school’s water system, including the four stub-outs, would essentially become a private water system which could not be extended to other properties.
At the October meeting, McConnell’s new attorney Randy Nelson, who described himself as a litigation lawyer, in contrast to Mike Ashby, the negotiating attorney who has represented the Foundation in past dealings with the BVWD, said that if the District refused to negotiate, it would leave them no choice but to file a lawsuit.
BVWD General Manager David Coxey said the District could not negotiate to accept a public safety code violation that endangered the public water system, which is what the installation of the school’s auxiliary water systems had created. He also objected to Nelson’s characterization of the non-potable water in the irrigation pipes as “rainwater.” That irrigation water is “roof run-off fermented in the cistern,” Coxey said. He reiterated the District’s position that to protect the public water system from cross contamination by the school’s improperly installed irrigation system, there were only two acceptable alternatives: 1) dig up and properly reinstall the school’s irrigation system or 2) separate the school’s entire water system from the rest of the BVWD system.
The District’s attorney John Kenney asked McConnell’s lawyers why they were so opposed to privatizing the school’s water system. “Would moving the meter to the front of the property prevent the school from functioning?” he asked. Mike Ashby replied that it wouldn’t harm the school, but it would prevent them from using those pipelines for future development.
At that point Director Ted Bambino spoke up and said he thought that privatizing the school’s water system and putting in a second water line to serve the adjoining properties would probably be less expensive than going to court and they ought to consider it.
Ashby said “That would be a solution.”
Kennedy suggested the Board defer its ruling on McConnell’s appeal until their January meeting so they could discuss Bambino’s suggestion. The Board agreed.
The next two meetings of the BVWD Board of Directors will be moved to alternate dates due to the holidays. The meeting of Nov. 24 will be held on Nov. 17, and the meeting of Dec. 22 will be held on Dec. 15.