Bills would resolve Pioneer-Caldwell fight

Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Pioneer Irrigation District and the city of Caldwell are being pushed by rancher and Idaho Speaker of the House Scott Bedke to resolve their long-running dispute over stormwater runoff and the use of eminent domain. Bedke has two bills that will resolve the issue for them but is waiting to see if a settlement can be reached first.

BOISE — Pioneer Irrigation District and the city of Caldwell could be close to an agreement that would resolve their long-running dispute over stormwater runoff, the use of eminent domain and other issues.

If they don’t, Idaho’s speaker of the House has two bills waiting that could resolve it for them.

Rep. Scott Bedke, a Republican rancher from Oakley, is pushing the two sides to resolve their disagreements, which include an attempt by Caldwell to take a portion of the irrigation district through the use of eminent domain.

The speaker is prepared to take action if they don’t, said Norm Semanko, executive director of the Idaho Water Users Association, which sides with Pioneer.

Both bills would clarify the authority to use eminent domain to condemn property owned by irrigation and drainage entities.

It would prevent eminent domain from being used to take “property that an irrigation or drainage entity owns, operates and maintains to provide water … to the land owners who are entitled to those services….”

But it would allow condemnation to be used for “concurrent public uses such as building, operating and maintaining roads, water, sewer and utility services … that are not related to the irrigation … entity’s existing delivery or drainage operations.”

For example, if a city needed to run a pipe or electrical wire through an irrigation district’s right of way and the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement, “the bill recognizes that that would be an appropriate use of eminent domain as long as it’s not injuring the irrigation district’s ability to do their job,” Semanko said. “The bill appropriately draws that line.”

One bill is retroactive to 2012, before Caldwell’s eminent domain lawsuit was filed. If the parties don’t reach a settlement, that bill will be introduced, Semanko said.

If they do, Bedke will introduce the other bill, which is effective July 1 and would “make sure that we don’t have this kind of thing occurring in the future,” Semanko said.

Food Producers of Idaho members voted unanimously March 5 to support both bills.

“These bills are very important for water users in Idaho,” said Meridian farmer and FPI member Drew Eggers.

Pioneer sued Caldwell because of stormwater runoff it claimed was hurting water quality, and Caldwell seeks to use eminent domain to condemn a portion of the irrigation district.

The negotiations have led to Pioneer’s lawsuit being dismissed, Semanko said, but there are several other lawsuits filed by Caldwell still pending, including one involving the eminent domain proposal.

Both parties are tight-lipped about the negotiations.

“We’re gaining,” was all Pioneer board chairman Alan Newbill would say about the talks. “There are good things that are going on.”

Semanko told FPI members that Bedke has been instrumental in trying to resolve the issue.

“We have trusted the speaker to help guide us through this very difficult issue and I think he’s doing a yeoman’s job,” he said.



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