They have already faced a revolving door when it comes to board composition.
This is in addition to halting actual construction of the proposed $4.5 million sewer system for Paradise.
Now, just when they were hoping to hop in the family RoadWagon and set off on their dream trip, they’ve been told they have no money for gas, food and groceries, and on and on. minus hotel rooms or camping fees.
And now they may face legal issues and the myriad fees that those issues can bring.
“Woe” is about to become “whoa”.
Some kind of weird ride at an amusement park? Or could it be the actual issues and proceedings associated with the beleaguered Paradise Sewer Board following the latest rally in the unincorporated village south of Plains.
Last Tuesday, after the minutes were read and before new/old business was discussed, the Sewer Board received an invoice for $53,000, due and payable upon receipt.
The purveyor of the financial jolt was none other than the Paradise Water District, which until recently was assumed to be one with the Sewer Board and therefore eligible for use by the Sewer Board.
The bill, presented to the Sewer Board by the Water District the day before last Tuesday’s meeting, was brought to the council’s attention by Treasurer Dewey Arnold, himself a relatively newly elected member of the Sewer Board.
Arnold and fellow board member Janis Barber had been elected to the panel following a successful recall of former chairman Sunny Chase and another board member following public outcry and discontent surrounding what the two-thirds of local landlords say it would amount to an unacceptable and unfair financial burden on city residents.
Ultimately, Barber would assume the title of chairman of the board as the battle to begin work on the proposed sewage system and the benefits it would allegedly provide for free to local developer and property owner Bridger Bischoff.
Two other members, Janie McFadden and Don Stamm, were appointed to the board by outgoing and now retired Sanders County Commissioner Carol Brooker. Opponents immediately cried foul over the move, noting that Stamm and McFadden were strong supporters of the project before joining the new board.
Right after they exceeded the $1,249 in bills the council had to pay, Arnold told them the bad news.
“I know there’s been discussion about when we might get a deposit to pay Bridger for the purchase of his land for the project’s sewage disposal field,” Arnold said. “But we can’t pay Bridger a deposit right now.”
When asked for an explanation, Arnold continued.
“Last night we received a bill for $53,000 from the Régie des eaux. Many checks were written without any documentation showing what they were for, who approved them, and other information.
As the room fell silent, Katy French, a member of the Water Board, herself an engineer and local owner, took the floor to clarify the breathtaking development.
“The invoice was delivered to your treasurer last night, with the due date and amount due,” French said. “Most of the checks were made out to Great West Engineering, I have copies of the cheques.”
Great West has been accused of offering an overpriced system and using scare tactics to convince the residents of Paradise that they are sitting on the cusp of potential environmental disaster due to the individual makeup of the town’s septic systems. These accusations have been refuted by local activists who say the Montana Department of Environmental Quality has conducted studies showing that groundwater in Paradise is perfectly safe.
And, she added, the long-held and mistaken belief that the Water Board and the Sewerage District are one with respect to government function, has contributed to the confusion and demand by the Water Board to be reimbursed for written funds. on the money in their account.
“Partly because there were the same people on both councils, although they are separate entities, they blurred the line on bills and financial matters who belong to whom,” French said. . “The invoice is due and payable upon receipt, as soon as possible. The Water Board would ultimately be in trouble for these bills and there are liability issues at play”.
And, added French, the victim of one of those false assumptions was that the Sewer Board was legally protected by what former Board members perceived as liability coverage via a Water District Police.
The Water District had such a policy in place for years, but the Sewer Board, which French said was a separate body from the Water District, therefore had no insurance protection.
“This problem also extends to members of the Sewer Board who are not covered for liability issues,” she said. “If something of the nature of liability arose, you wouldn’t be covered, you would be liable.”
Hearing this, Sewer Board member Terry Caldwell asked if Sanders County insurance would cover them and was told no.
After a rigorous debate, the Sewer Board concluded that the matter should be dealt with immediately while admitting that they had no money for such an act.
This led to intense debate over the scope of the system itself and what concessions Bischoff was seeking in a proposed buy/sell deal involving the proposed drainfield site. The site in question is at the other end of Bischoff’s property which stretches along the northern edge of Paradise and which he has previously labeled “Bridger’s Paradise”.
Amid the debate, anti-sewer campaigner Lee Ann Overman informed the group, as she has done for months, if not years, that the Council has strayed from the original reason for its establishment ten years ago.
“Isn’t this all supposed to be a study to see if this (the project) is feasible?” Overman asked. “You all acted like this was all a done deal.”
The remarks prompted a brief outcry from the project’s proponents. French said the newly proposed changes to the original design would fall under many of the same requirements previously set by the DEQ, including a year-long study of water issues in the area.
Other issues such as system capacity that would be given to Bischoff were also discussed without a clear answer with several key project deadlines quickly tied to grants and funding approaching.
Just before the adjournment, Barber submitted another letter of resignation as she collected her papers and belongings and headed for the door. She previously “resigned” two weeks ago, then rescinded that resignation so she could vote on the proposed new buy/sell deal with Bridger.
The latest resignation was accepted by the remaining board members, who now appear to be split 2-2 on whether or not to move the project forward.
“It’s been a complete mess over the past two years,” Overman warned the board. “We would need a different design and a different engineering company, not Great West, to continue.
“And,” she added, “we need a legitimate vote before we go ahead with all these plans to see if it’s something people want.”
Another board meeting is scheduled for this evening (Tuesday) at the “Club House” in Paradise at 6 p.m.