Friday, September 5, 2014

County approves irrigation district partition

Commissioners had no discretion in matter

Express Staff Writer

    The Blaine County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a petition to divide Wood River Valley Irrigation District 45.
    Given that a recently enacted Idaho law states that a board of county commissioners “shall” order partition of the district if a petition to do so appears to meet certain criteria, the commissioners agreed that they had no alternative but to approve the request. However, they said they expect the validity of the law to be resolved in court.
    The petition was filed by the owners of 12 properties in the district on May 14. A hearing on the matter was held Aug. 5 and continued to Sept. 2.
    The statute enabling the petition states that it shall be approved if:

  • The holders of a majority of the acreage with water rights delivered by the district have signed the petition, and;
  • The owners of that land own the water rights, and;
  • The majority of the land is of an agricultural character.

    County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tim Graves advised the commissioners that the petitioners “have at least created an appearance that they have met the statutory requirements.”
    The petition is the result of a disagreement between large agricultural landowners in the Bellevue Triangle and the owners of smaller, residential properties farther upstream in the water-delivery system over how to best manage the district.
    “I have to say that I am sorry that the issues that are between and among the members of the irrigation district have not been able to be resolved,” Commissioner Larry Schoen said.
    On Aug. 4, the owners of three properties in the district filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against Blaine County’s consideration of the petition. The plaintiffs contended that the law enabling partition, passed by the Legislature in 2013, violates a section of the Idaho Constitution prohibiting the enactment of laws directed at specific localities. The suit claims that as written, the law can be applied to no other water district in the state. The case had not been decided when the commissioners issued their order Tuesday.
“This body does not have the authority to strike down legislative statements made by the Legislature,” Graves told the commissioners. “Those [objections] need to be addressed by a court of law.”
The law states that partition shall be effective immediately upon issuance of an order by the county commissioners. It states that an appeal must be brought within 90 days of that decision.

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