Court rules in favor of water co.

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SANDPOINT — The Idaho Supreme Court is affirming a lower court’s ruling that prevents the Schweitzer Fire District from taking enforcement action against the Schweitzer Basin Water Company over perceived fire hydrant flow deficiencies.

The water company formed in 1989 to operate a private water system on Schweitzer Mountain and 1992 began allowing homeowners to add fire hydrants to the system so long as homeowners maintained them on their own dime. The fire district formed in 1994 and went on to have repeated disputes about the flow-rate requirements over the years.

The district ordered the company in 2014 to remedy the alleged flow deficiencies. Schweitzer Basin Water turned to 1st District Court for relief from the order via a writ of prohibition.

Judge Barbara Buchanan issued a provisional writ in 2015 and the parties entered into mediation that was ultimately unsuccessful, which led to a writ of prohibition in 2016. Buchanan ruled that the fire district had no jurisdiction to order system upgrades because the water system could not be considered a building or structure under Idaho Code.

Under the code, fire officials can only order remedies to buildings and structures.

The fire district appealed to the high court and included a friend-of-the-court brief by the Idaho State Fire Marshal which argued that the district court did not properly interpret the section of code in the context of the entire statutory fire-safety scheme. But the supreme court declined to consider the amicus curiae brief because it advanced an arguments that were not previously raised by either party in the litigation, according to a 11-page opinion released on Tuesday.

Moreover, the supreme court affirmed the lower court ruling that Schweitzer Fire has no jurisdiction over Schweitzer Basin’s water system.

“The district’s failure to identify pertinent statutory authority has not been rectified on appeal.

It’s opening brief contains an argument that was evidently cut and pasted from its original brief before the district court,” Justice Joel Horton observed in the opinion.

The supreme court also upheld the award of attorney fees to the water company in district court. The fire district argued its actions were reasonable because there was no ordinance or statute that forbids such actions.

“We are unable to accept the premise that an explicit statutory prohibition is a prerequisite to an award of attorneys fees,” Horton wrote.

The supreme court also awarded appeal attorney fees and costs to Schweitzer Basin.

Chief Justice Roger Burdick, Justice Pro Tem Jesse Walters, and justices Warren Jones and Robyn Brody concurred with Horton.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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