LISBON - The Buckeye Water District is seeking release of money owed East Liverpool, an indication the agency may be willing to settle its dispute with the city rather than take any further legal action, at least for now.
The BWD filed a motion last week in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court requesting the court comply with the June 21 ruling of the Ohio 7th District Court of Appeals and release $3.35 million in garnished funds to East Liverpool.
In that ruling, the appeals court rejected all of the BWD's remaining legal arguments, clearing the way for East Liverpool to take possession of $3.35 million in BWD funds that had been frozen by court order since January 2011 pending the outcome of various appeals.
The money represents a portion of what East Liverpool is due as part of a $4.8 million-plus judgment the city is owed as a result of its successful 2005 breach-of-contract lawsuit against the BWD over the purchase of water.
Following the appeals court decision, the BWD voted June 25 to appeal the ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court. At a telephone conference held three days later with Judge C. Ashley Pike, the attorneys for both sides indicated the latest negotiations had reached yet another impasse and an appeal to the supreme court would be filed in the next day or two.
Since the BWD was going to file an appeal, Pike saw no reason to schedule any further hearings. But no such appeal has been filed, although the BWD has 45 days from June 21 to do so.
BWD attorney Fred Emmerling could not be reached for comment.
The parties have reportedly been close to reaching a settlement, with East Liverpool indicating it would accept about $6 million - which includes accrued interest - after rejecting an offer of $5 million from the BWD.
Since then, county commissioners put up $1.5 million to help pay East Liverpool what it is owed, with the BWD agreeing to repay commissioners. As part of the deal, the BWD has agreed to also pay East Liverpool with money generated from leasing 210 acres for shale gas development. When combined with the $3.35 million being held in escrow, this would bring the total available to pay East Liverpool close to $6 million.
At the June 25 telephone conference, East Liverpool's attorney indicated an unidentified party was refusing to sign off on the agreement. Other sources later identified that as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has loaned money to the BWD for various projects. The USDA is not a party to the lawsuit, however.