By Kevin Kelley
Since Westlake city leaders began seriously pursuing a switch of water suppliers, officials from Westlake city government and the Cleveland Division of Water have differed sharply on the legal ramifications of such a switch.
Now Westlake is asking a court to decide the issue.
At its regular meeting Thursday evening, Westlake City Council members voted unanimously for a resolution in favor of a filing that seeks declaratory judgment from the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
The resolution states that council wants the court to “declare the rights and obligations of the city of Westlake” under its water service agreement and a separate memorandum with Cleveland Water.
Cleveland officials have said Westlake will be liable for costs created by a Westlake separation from the Cleveland system. The costs for Cleveland Water to re-establish service to the neighboring cities of Bay Village, Fairview Park, North Olmsted and Rocky River would be approximately $17 million, Cleveland officials have said.
But Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough has disputed that, saying there’s no legal basis for making Westlake pay for reconnection costs.
“There’s nothing in our contract that says if we cancel, we’re going to be required to pay money for ‘stranded costs’ or to reconnect other cities,” Clough told West Shore Chamber of Commerce members during a March speech. “There’s nothing in our contract … I’ve asked them to demonstrate what those numbers that they’ve been throwing out represent, and they haven’t been able to do it.”
Clough told council Thursday that the filing was suggested by Stumphauzer, O’Toole, McLaughlin, McGlamery & Loughman Co., the legal firm hired by the city to handle water supplier matters.
The mayor said the legal filing would seek clarification regarding the contract.
Clough and City Council have largely been in agreement regarding the pursuit of a water supplier switch. They believe switching to Avon Lake Municipal Utilities will save money for customers and let the city better maintain the infrastructure of aging water lines.
“I think it’s fair to say that the city of Cleveland and the city of Westlake interpret some provisions differently, and it’s up to the court to try and resolve those issues,” council President Mike Killeen said.
Westlake and Cleveland have issued dueling consultant reports that supported or criticized, respectively, the feasibility of switching suppliers. A rebuttal from Westlake consultant HNTB is largely finished, City Engineer Bob Kelly said at Thursday’s council meeting. A report from a financial consultant was being finalized and would be made public next month, Kelly added.