Greencastle water authority sues Hess holdouts

PAT FRIDGEN

"You have been sued in Court."

That's the message Mary Ann Young and Thomas and Deborah Moore read when they opened letters personally delivered by a representative of the Franklin County Sheriff's Department on Nov. 21.

The missive originated with Greencastle Area Franklin County Water Authority. It filed a complaint in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas on Nov. 7, asking Judge Richard J. Walsh for an injunction and to compel connection by the two households to the GAFCWA water system.

Nine of their neighbors already connected, or signed an agreement committing to do so by July 1, 2019. The action was required after notification last May that the authority was exercising its power to mandate connection to its public water system, which was installed in 2007 when a new line was run through the neighborhood en route to another development across Williamsport Pike.

Young, 569 Lynn Drive, and the Moores, 11643 Kimberly Drive, refused to comply.

GAFCWA position

The complaint, signed by authority manager Kenneth Womack, cited the Second Class Township Code, which said the Board of Supervisors "may by ordinance require that a property owner connect with and use a water system of the township or authority or a joint water board," and for any exclusion to apply, three conditions had to be met. They included that a water system or extension within 150 feet of a home existed on Sept. 2, 2008; the residence had a safe water supply; and that before the September date the property was not required to connect.

The third clause was not fulfilled, GAFCWA stated, because the Antrim Township Board of Supervisors adopted Ordinance 266 on Sept. 12, 2000, when it contracted with the authority to provide water and adopted a mandatory connection policy with the 150-foot rule.

GAFCWA issued Notices to Connect to the 11 households last May. It set a 90-day deadline of Aug. 22, or offered a plan to allow people time to set aside funds for the project. If they signed an agreement by July 1, they had until 2019 to hook up. If a property owner did not accept either option, the authority would perform the job at owner expense.

On Aug. 12 it received letters from Young and the Moores stating that they would not connect to the new water line.

Residents position

Thomas and Deborah Moore wrote that after research and consultation, they concluded GAFCWA did not have the authority to override the exemption granted by the Board of Supervisors April 10, 2007. Young claimed the same exemption and added that Pennsylvania Act 34 of 2008, which passed July 4, "clearly negates" mandatory connection. She said its three conditions were met, that her house (built in 1972) existed before the water laterals were run (in 2007); she had a safe water supply; and she was not required to connect before Sept. 2, 2008. Additionally, she wrote that she was not required to connect by the supervisors and the GAFCWA letter came three years after the 2008 date.

Both parties charged that if anyone came onto their properties, they would be taken to court for trespassing.

The minutes of the April 10, 2007 supervisors meeting about a possible exemption read:  'A motion passed to grant a waiver exemption for 10 homeowners through proper legal proceedings that, if possible, may require a revised ordinance.'

Antrim has never revised its ordinance.

Water authority members have said they delayed enforcing the connection policy because they were hoping to fill vacant seats on the board with representatives from Antrim Township once Greencastle purchased the township water system. Young's husband, Fred III, is a supervisor, and voted to rescind the Option Agreement Aug. 9. Negotiations on the purchase died after that.

Timeline

The Hess residents have 20 days to respond if they wish to defend their positions. They must submit a written notice personally or through an attorney. The complaint advised them to show the document to an attorney. If they could not afford one, the Prothonotary's office could direct them to a source of free or reduced fee legal services.

Greencastle is represented by Elliot Sulcove of the law firm Black and Davison. The specific relief asks from Judge Walsh is that the residents connect to the public water, they are prohibited from interfering with the authority entering the properties, they reimburse Greencastle for all costs and expenses associated with the connection, and "any other relief the court deems just."