Court favors city in water issue

By The Mercury

District Judge Paul Miller has ruled that the city of Manhattan does not have to continue providing USD 383 with free water.

The city has been providing a free supply stemming from an arrangement begun in 1887 when E.B. and Elizabeth Purcell deeded an area of land in Manhattan for the operation of a public water supply and stipulated that in consideration of the grant, the city would provide “in perpetuity a supply of free water to all churches and public schools.”

USD 383 board members claimed in their civil lawsuit that they are a third party beneficiary to that contract, but Miller ruled other stipulations in the deed negate that claim.

In his judgment, Miller wrote that another stipulation of the deed was that the land was to be used solely for a public water works system and that in the event that the city ceased to use that land for this reason, it was to revert to the heirs of the Purcells.

The same deed arrangement also provided for free water to city churches. No church, however, was a party to the school district’s suit, and Miller’s ruling did not speak to the validity of that portion of the original requirement.

Miller wrote that the original water works facility was put out of service in 1985 and demolished in 1993. The original reservoir on top of Bluemont Hill was abandoned and disconnected in 1965 when a water tower was built on land not originally belonging to the Purcells.

The problem with the USD 383 board members’ claim, Miller ruled, is that the land is no longer being used for the purpose of a public water works system and should therefore revert back to the Purcells’ heirs.

City commissioners first began to discuss the issue in November 2010, and the USD 383 Board of Education formally filed suit in December of that year. It is expected that USD 383 board members will discuss the issue in their Feb. 1 board meeting.

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