Grand Lake man gets to split repair with water district, but now he owes $42,000 in legal fees
May 25, 2008
A greater Grand Lake man who had his day in court to challenge $23,000 worth of water bills and interest is not ready to give up the fight.
Larry Stuart, retired commercial painter and seasonal cabin owner in the North Shore Subdivision, has not had water service at his cabin going on three years.
Even after a jury settled a dispute between him and the North Shore Water and Sanitation District in January over a series of bills, he still does not have water.
At the end of a three-day trial, a panel of his peers found that Stuart was not liable for street repairs in front of his cabin upon a fixed leak in the aging system’s infrastructure.
He did, however, owe for repairs on the service line from his cabin to the curb stop, amounting to $10,490, roughly half of what he originally had been billed.
But to come to that conclusion, Stuart paid $20,000 in attorney fees, he said, and is still paying.
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He has decided to file an appeal to fight North Shore’s determination that he now owes the district for all of its legal fees, amounting to $42,592, even though the court decision split the $23,000 in unpaid bills between district and water consumer.
“I won half. Why should I pay all of his fees?” he said.
The district declined to comment due to pending litigation, but there is Colorado case law and statutory law that says special districts are entitled to compensation of attorney fees when forced to pursue charges.
As he continues to challenge the district, expected to be in Denver court, Stuart expects to endure another summer without water.
He has paid his share of the water bills, but a lock still remains on his service.
Because he had squared up on payments, in February, the North Shore water board voted to make service available to Stuart in spite of its outstanding attorney fees.
But in January, the board rescinded that vote.
“Their lawyer don’t own the water company,” Stuart said. “Why can’t I have my water back on?”
Rules and regulation of the district stipulate that water can be withheld when debt is past due after a particular period of time, according to board minutes.
With gasoline for trips back and forth to his primary home in Denver and motel costs while in Grand County during the lengthy ordeal, Stuart said he’s approaching about $80,000 in costs for a single water-pipe leak that started in September 2005.
“It’s sad,” Stuart said in regard to all the money he’s spending to defend himself. “And to think all these other people are going to go through this.”
In a discussion regarding the lawsuit reflected in February minutes, the North Shore board expressed it “was satisfied with the results, the main concern having been addressed that the board can continue to enforce ownership and responsibility for the service, being from the home to the corporation cock at the water main, to the homeowner.”
The bulk of the North Shore Subdivision is made up of older cabins owned by weekenders. Stuart fears many are unaware of the district’s aging water pipes.
“I worked for 45 years as a painter in Denver,” he said. “I raised my kids and paid for my house in 30 years like anyone.”
The senior citizen has resorted to seeking a bank loan.
“That’s hard to do when you’re a man who’s 73 years old,” he said.
“It’s a rip-off.”
” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.