The City of Fort Calhoun is suing the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District over the controversial merger of Washington County's two rural water districts.

Two lawsuits filed this week in Washington County District Court say the NRD didn't properly dissolve the water systems' boundaries after voting last month to merge them.

The city also claims that the NRD should have taken into account an advisory board's opposition to the merger and that the NRD board violated the open meetings act when it failed to notify the public of a special hearing Thursday to redraw the system boundaries.

“You did not move or vote on altering boundaries,” Fort Calhoun City Councilwoman Carrie Halford told the board. “Or I promise you, you'd have a lot more people here.”

Paul Peters, the district's lawyer, said the board's vote to adjust the boundaries would resolve the city's complaint.

The NRD has yet to answer the lawsuits, which General Manager John Winkler called meritless.

“What a waste of resources,” he said.

Merging the districts means the older, larger and comparatively healthy system No. 1 will absorb the debt of system No. 2, which otherwise was on track to default by 2017. Many customers who got their water from system No. 1 — including its largest customer, the City of Fort Calhoun — said this arrangement is unfair.

The merger plan also called for raising water rates for customers of the old No. 2 system starting Oct. 1, which the board did Thursday.

Under the new rates, the average customer of what was No. 2 will pay 15 percent more each month. Project manager Zach Nelson said the rate increase will generate an additional $29,000 of revenue.

Rates for customers of system No. 1 won't change — for now.

NRD board member Patrick Bonnett of Millard, meanwhile, wants to sell the newly combined water system.

He asked the NRD staff to begin researching what it would fetch in a sale to a private company or to another public entity, such as the Metropolitan Utilities District or the Washington County Board.

Peters said such a sale would be legal.

“If all the requirements were met, there's no reason why we couldn't sell the water system,” he said.


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