Despite a settlement between Roseburg Forest Products and the City of Weed, both sides of a long-running water dispute still face some unfinished business in court.
The settlement approved Friday acknowledges that the city has no ownership interest in the Beaughan Springs.
The springs have been a water source for Weed for decades, but a dispute over water rights started when the 50-year lease to 1.5 cubic feet of water per second from the springs was set to expire in 2016. The company set up a 10-year lease for the city with the option to extend it by five years. Part of the lease required the city to look for an alternative water source.
During the two-year dispute, several community leaders alleged their First Amendment rights were violated after the company filed a lawsuit in May 2017 against the city and grass-roots group Water for Citizens of Weed California, including Bruce Shoemaker. The city filed a countersuit in September 2017 and the community association filed to have the initial case dismissed because it was seen as intimidation — an allegation the company has denied. The company appealed the dismissal. Shoemaker said he expects the initial case will be dismissed since the city settled the countersuit.
“Not everything is settled,” Shoemaker said. “What happened last week is the City of Weed decided they just did not have the funds to continue to pursue the case. It wasn’t about the merits of the case, it was simply that the city did not have the resources to pursue. The legal costs were mounting up and it’s a very poor community.”
As of December 2018, the organization reported the city spent more than $400,000 in legal costs over the rights to the water. According to the stipulated judgment, the company will pay the city $50,000 in attorney fees, but the city waives all rights to recover additional fees and costs related to the case.
Stuart Gray, senior vice president and general counsel for Roseburg Forest Products, said the litigation was never about monetary compensation, only to clearly establish water rights.
Mayor Ken Palfini could not be reached for comment. The community organization claimed the city and the company were being secretive “with no opportunity for community input or review.”
Rebecca Taylor, spokeswoman for Roseburg Forest Products, said the rights to the water have been in private hands since before the city was incorporated in 1961. The water rights were passed from company to company until Roseburg Forest Products purchased the land in 1983 when it also took over the 50-year lease to the city for the water. Taylor said the city paid $1 a year for the water rights.
“In anticipation of the lease expiration, Roseburg engaged the city in negotiations to work out a new deal going forward,” Taylor said in an email. “The company and city reached an agreement before the deadline that provides water to the city for another 10 to 15 years (beginning in 2016). The agreement was the result of years of negotiations between the company and the city.”
“Roseburg believes that the residents of Weed should not be dependent on a private, family-owned company for their water,” Taylor said. “The company has encouraged the city for years to find a new, independent source of its own. Roseburg has offered at various times to develop a well on the city’s behalf and to supply the land on which the well would be located. The city did not take us up on those offers.”
“The only thing this proves is that Roseburg had more financial resources to fight this case than did the City of Weed,” Shoemaker said in a press release. “It is simply wrong for Roseburg to be allowed to use legal bullying to get its way by intimidating and trying to bankrupt our community. It is a shame that, due to the City’s capitulation, these compelling issues will not have their day in court.”