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Summit aiming to monopolize Snyderville water, lawsuit says

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SUMMIT COUNTY — Boil down the legal lingo, and a Snyderville Basin water company's antitrust suit against Summit County and other officials boils down to a case of too many people wearing too many hats.

"There are classic cases of conflicts of interest. Not just one incident, but several, producing a conduct of conspiracy over a course of two years, as near as we can tell," said Robert Campbell, attorney for Summit Water Distribution Co., which supplies water to two-thirds of the water users in Snyderville Basin.

David Thomas, deputy Summit County attorney, however, said, "This supposed great conspiracy to drive them out of business — there is no great conspiracy. We believe the lawsuit has no merit."

The company filed its complaint Monday in the 3rd District Court of Judge Robert K. Hilder. He is the same judge who in August roundly rejected attempts by the county, through its Mountain Regional Water Special Services District, to take by condemnation the water rights, equipment and assets of Summit Water.

Then the county battled Summit Water over the amount of wet water rights the company was allowed to claim under the county's water rights concurrency ordinance. After hearing an appeal, the county allowed Summit Water to claim more than previously permitted but less than it was asking.

"We strongly believe there was an irreconcilable conflict of interest concerning the official who has authority over concurrency," said Campbell, referring to W. Todd Jarvis, director of groundwater resources for engineering firm Montgomery Watson Harza of Salt Lake City. It is the same company that is a consultant for the Mountain Water Regional Special Service district.

Also named as defendants are: Mountain Regional Water Special Service District; Commissioners Patrick Cone, Eric Schifferli and Shauna Kerr; Douglas Evans, president of Mountain Regional Water; Montgomery Watson Harza; Jarvis, and "John Does 1-10," who may be named later.

Thomas, though, said, "It seems to me their complaint is not with the county, but with the state Legislature, since it is the Utah Constitution and state statutes that set up county commissions as governing bodies of special services districts," such as Mountain Regional. "The commissioners serve as the board of governors of Mountain Regional because they can't do otherwise. It's exactly what state law requires them to do," Thomas said.

Campbell outlined a three-pronged civil suit, which he said was laid along lines of Utah's criminal antitrust statutes. He claimed:

That Summit County has attempted to eliminate Summit Water as a competitor in the retail sale, distribution and delivery of water in the Snyderville Basin.

A conspiracy and agreement by the defendants to monopolize the sale, distribution and delivery of water in this area's market.

An appeal from the county's decision on the concurrency issue was handled in an "arbitrary, capricious and illegal" manner by the Board of Adjustments and was part of the conspiracy.

Thomas said, "It seems strange to me that a mutual water company which is not-for-profit, is not regulated by the (Utah) Public Service Commission and has no actual geographical service area would be filing an anti-trust suit against a governental agency.

"We actually have cut Summit Water breaks no other water companies in the county have enjoyed — not even Mountain Regional got the water reserve waivers Summit Water got.

"All we've been trying to do, and will continue to do, is regionalize our water system to make sure there is adequate water for all county residents."

E-mail: gtwyman@desnews.com