BOISE — The city of Caldwell’s dismissal of its eminent domain case against Pioneer Irrigation District has brought the two sides to the verge of ending their six-year battle.
Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas and Pioneer board chairman Alan Newbill signed an agreement to dismiss the case March 19.
“We have agreed to dismiss the eminent domain case … for now,” Nancolas said shortly after a brief 1 p.m. news conference. “The intent is that we’re going to get this all settled and we’ll be done here very quickly.”
He said the two sides would work hard to try to resolve their remaining disagreements, which center around stormwater runoff. Pioneer sued Caldwell over what it considered to be illegal stormwater discharges into the irrigation district’s canal and drainage system.
Caldwell filed a counter-suit and initiated an eminent domain action against Pioneer 16 months ago that sought to condemn one-third of Pioneer’s 34,000 acres.
Pioneer recently dropped its original lawsuit over stormwater discharges.
Nancolas said the eminent domain case dismissal will give the two parties time to work through their remaining disagreements.
“We’re working together in a very positive manner to benefit the patrons of Pioneer as well as the city of Caldwell,” he said.
Newbill agreed the negotiations were going well.
“I think we’re making very good progress,” he said. The eminent domain action dismissal “gives us time to try to work out a global settlement … to get this thing ended.”
News of the agreement was welcomed by Norm Semanko, executive director of the Idaho Water Users Association, which represents almost 300 irrigation districts and canal companies that manage water supplies for more than 2 million acres of farmland.
IWUA members, who side with Pioneer, are concerned that if Caldwell’s eminent domain case stands, it could set a precedent that could harm Idaho’s $8 billion farming industry.
The fact that the two sides are working positively together and making good progress is a great sign, he said.
“That’s wonderful news,” Semanko said. “They’re working together and that is the solution. We’re hopeful that will continue … and they’ll be able to solve their problems together.”
As a result of the eminent domain case dismissal, two bills pending in the Idaho Legislature that would have forced a resolution to the dispute won’t proceed this year.
The bills, which would have clarified the authority to use eminent domain to condemn property owned by irrigation and drainage entities, were opposed by Caldwell during a public hearing.
The legislation would have prevented government entities from condemning the property of irrigation districts and then turning around and running them as irrigation districts themselves, which is what Pioneer claims Caldwell intended to do.
Semanko said the bills were the impetus for the two parties to speed up the pace of their negotiations.
“The goal has always been (getting) these folks to work together and that’s what they’re doing. It’s a good development,” he said.