Commissioners sign off on water suit deal

LISBON – Two down and only East Liverpool to go before the city’s eight-year-old lawsuit against the Buckeye Water District can officially be laid to rest.

Columbiana County commissioners agreed at this week’s meeting to officially sign off on an agreement resolving the lawsuit filed by the city of East Liverpool, joining the BWD, which voted to do so at its April 18 meeting. East Liverpool’s approval is needed for the agreement to become final.

The settlement was actually reached at a December court hearing, where East Liverpool agreed to accept $6.2 million from the BWD to settle the dispute once and for all. The attorneys for the parties have spent the time since putting the agreement in writing.

The dispute dates back to 2005, when East Liverpool filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the BWD after the BWD ceased purchasing water from the city, despite having a long-term agreement with East Liverpool to do so. The judge ruled in East Liverpool’s favor, awarding the city $4.8 million. The additional $1.4 million represents interest on the judgment that accrued while the BWD exhausted its appeals.

Because the BWD was created in the 1990s out of the former county water district, county commissioners were co-defendants in the lawsuit and, as such, also liable for the judgment. To help resolve the lawsuit, commissioners loaned the BWD $1.5 million to be put toward the judgment.

The settlement agreement contains a provision requiring the BWD and commissioners to pay East Liverpool an additional $350,000, plus interest, should the U.S. Department of Agriculture take legal action laying claim to any of the $6.2 million. East Liverpool is concerned because over the years the USDA has loaned the BWD millions of dollars for various projects. The USDA has previously said it has no intention of filing any such lawsuit.

Commissioners protected themselves should this occur, however, by entering into a side deal in which the BWD agreed to assume any and all future liability that may result from the settlement agreement.

“In other words, the board of commissioners would be out nothing should something in the agreement go awry,” said Commissioner Chairman Mike Halleck. “We don’t anticipate that happening, but we just want to protect the county.”

Halleck said if the USDA was going to lay claim to those funds used to pay East Liverpool it would have done so already.