LISBON - To settle its lawsuit against the Buckeye Water District, East Liverpool wants another $600,000 to $700,000 in addition to the nearly $6 million the city previously agreed to accept to resolve the dispute.
The demand came out during a telephone conference held Wednesday before Columbiana County Common Pleas Court Judge C. Ashley Pike to discuss continuing efforts to resolve the breach-of-contract lawsuit, which East Liverpool won and resulted in a $4.8 million judgment in favor of the city.
The parties had reached a tentative agreement on a plan that would pay East Liverpool $5.9 million, which includes the $4.8 million judgment plus accrued interest. The money to pay East Liverpool was to come from $3.3 million in BWD funds Pike ordered be garnished and applied toward the judgment; $1.5 million being loaned to the BWD by county commissioners; and $1.1 million the BWD is to receive for leasing its property for oil and shale gas development.
During the hearing, East Liverpool's attorney, Thomas Connors, informed Pike they now want $6.5 million or $6.6 million to resolve the lawsuit.
BWD attorney Fred Emmerling was incredulous upon learning this. "At this point in time it's discouraging that Liverpool would make a proposal and then step backward and say no," he said.
After the hearing, Emmerling said he had an email dated May 17 from East Liverpool's attorney stating city officials had agreed to settle for $5.9 million. But by mid-summer East Liverpool began insisting the U.S. Department of Agriculture sign off on the settlement agreement, even though the USDA was not a party to the lawsuit.
East Liverpool is concerned the agencies that provided funding for various BWD projects, such as the USDA, could file a lawsuit laying claim to some of the money used to pay the city. The courts have ruled the judgment owed East Liverpool is superior to any other liens that might result.
Emmerling said the USDA has already told the parties they have no intention of filing a lawsuit, but cannot sign off on any settlement agreement since the agency is not a party to the lawsuit.
"(East Liverpool) wanted something done that couldn't be done, and now, today, they say they want $600,000-$700,000 (more), and I don't know where that is coming from," he said.
Connors said the $5.9 million settlement offer is five months old and has since been withdrawn. He indicated there had been a a change in circumstances, including the USDA issue, and made some reference to the appeals process, which ended in East Liverpool's favor in June.
Pike said East Liverpool would have to produce the analysis it used to determined BWD has an additional $700,000 to put toward the judgment, and ordered Connors to produce his analysis to the court and BWD by Monday. A phone conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. Sept. 20 to discuss the matter further.
"This thing just has to come to an end," an exasperated Pike said of the seven-year-old lawsuit.