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Water fight

Harrison County Hospital believes it’s just good stewardship of taxpayers’ money in attempting to make sure its new facility will get its water from the Town of Corydon.
But to purchase the water from the same supplier as it does now, Corydon, hospital officials had to file a complaint with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and ask that Corydon be allowed to extend its water line into Ramsey Water Co.’s service area.
The hospital, now ‘landlocked’ in its south Corydon location, broke ground last month on a $47 million facility just south of Interstate 64, between Corydon-Ramsey Road and S.R. 337.
Hospital attorney John Colin said HCH did ‘a pretty extensive study’ when it was looking for a place to build. The price of land, plus factors such as location, access and safety, dictated the 40-acre site as the most feasible, he said.
‘We know we’re going to have water and sewer (service),’ Colin said. ‘We just don’t know who from.’
Ramsey Water Co. contends that it should be the supplier, based on an agreement the utility company has had with the Town of Corydon since 1997 that establishes boundaries.
So Ramsey Water responded to HCH’s complaint with the IURC by filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, claiming that Corydon is encroaching on Ramsey Water’s service territory and asking the IURC to dismiss the hospital’s complaint.
‘The big issue that comes into play is a federal law that says that a rural water utility that is indebted has the right to be protected from another water company coming into their territory,’ said Marcus Burgher IV, legal counsel for Ramsey Water. ‘We do not feel there is a boundary dispute.’
Some might ask, why not let Ramsey supply the water and let Corydon allow the hospital to hook on to its sewer system?
Fred Cammack, president of the Corydon Town Council, said it’s been ‘a long-standing policy’ to deny sewer service to anyone that is not a water customer.
‘It’s not practical,’ Cammack said.
That’s why there are only 34 incidences of customers receiving Corydon water but not sewer service.
Cammack said the town doesn’t relish the prospect of losing HCH as a customer, especially coupled with the loss of another large customer, Tower Automotive, which recently closed.
‘We would have to take a look at our rates’ if the new HCH is supplied by Ramsey or any other substantial customer is lost, he said.
Hospital administrators have estimated that buying water from Ramsey could cost an additional $10,000 to $15,000 a year, based on current usage and current water rates.
Plus, the hook-on fee is considerably higher for Ramsey, Colin said. The hospital would have to pay about $80,000 to connect to Corydon’s water supply compared to $130,000 for Ramsey, he said.
‘Procedurally, (Ramsey Water) is taking all the legal steps it can to protect all the rights they have,’ Burgher said, adding that the utility was disappointed that the hospital filed the complaint.
Ramsey’s board of directors is prepared to take the issue as far as necessary to protect itself, Burgher said.
‘We really felt like we were trying to work with the town, even though we don’t have to,’ because of the boundary agreement, Burgher said.
‘The sad part is the hospital’s going to incur attorney fees; the town’s going to incur attorney fees, and so is Ramsey (Water),’ he said. ‘That’s money that could be better spent.’ For example, in the case of Ramsey Water, improving water lines.
An attorneys’ conference is tentatively set for Dec. 12, Burgher said.
‘Ramsey Water didn’t want to be in the middle of this,’ he added. ‘If we didn’t have this agreement with Corydon, we wouldn’t be here.’
Burgher said Ramsey officials are optimistic the issue can be resolved, especially when one considers that litigation of this type can take years, not months, he said.
Colin would also like to see all parties involve reach an agreement, especially before it affects the construction time table.
‘There really isn’t any reason why this shouldn’t work out,’ he said. ‘If we’re able to work something out in mediation, all parties have some say in it. If it’s left up to a judge, we’re at their mercy.’