Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Injunction sought in irrigation dispute

Plaintiffs claim law enabling petition is unconstitutional

Express Staff Writer

    The owners of three properties in the Wood River Valley Irrigation District 45 have filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against Blaine County’s consideration of a petition to divide the district.
    The petition was initially filed before the county commissioners in August 2013, but later withdrawn. It was re-filed by the owners of 12 properties in the district on June 17, 2014. A hearing on the matter was held Aug. 5 and continued to Sept. 2.
    The petition is the result of a conflict between some of the district’s large agricultural landowners, who claim it is being poorly run, and its more numerous residential water users.  The petition seeks to create a new, 6,000-acre district out of the current 9,400-acre one in southern Blaine County.
    The petition was enabled by a law passed by the Idaho Legislature in 2013 authorizing partition of an irrigation district when requested by the owners of a majority of land in the district. The law states that the commissioners “shall” approve the partition if all the law’s criteria are met.
    The lawsuit, filed by Boise attorney Daniel Steenson in Blaine County 5th District Court on Aug. 4, contends that the law is unconstitutional for several reasons:

  •     That it violates a provision of the Idaho Constitution prohibiting the enactment of special or local laws in certain cases, including for the assessment and collection of taxes, or prescribing the powers of officers in “election districts.” The suit states that when Idaho Water Users Association Executive Director Norm Semanko presented the bill to House and Senate committees, he stated that it was “tailored” to the Wood River Irrigation District. The suit also contends that the newly created districts would have assessment authority over their members.
  •     That it violates due process by not providing a way for the county commissioners to hear the concerns of district members before taking government action.
  •     That it is too vague by requiring petitioners to show that their land is of “agricultural character” without defining that term. The suit also contends that the law is unconstitutionally vague by not stating how the property owned by the existing district would be divided.

    The suit asks that the petitioners and the county be stopped from taking any further action on the petition until a court decides on the partition law’s validity.

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