Asheville loses water lawsuit

The North Carolina Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by the city of Asheville concerning the constitutionality of state laws that regulate the city’s water system. The Feb. 9 decision appears to put an end to the long-running legal battle.

In August 2008, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled against Asheville in its lawsuit seeking to overturn the Sullivan Acts, which restrict the city from charging customers outside the city limits more for water, dictate what the city can do with water revenues, and bar Asheville—alone among the state’s municipalities—from making annexation a prerequisite for connection to the water system. Two lower courts have also ruled against the city.

In a Feb. 9 statement, City Attorney Bob Oast said, “We believe strongly in our position, and we are very disappointed in this ruling.”

Asheville City Council member Carl Mumpower also weighed in. “What power brokers legally can do and morally should do are not always the same,” he said in an e-mail. “Treating Asheville differently than other cities who also own their water system is a dramatic betrayal of fairness and principled representation. I am proud of the current City Council for fighting against this conspiracy of action between state and county officials and business interests seeking control of Asheville’s billion-dollar water assets.”

The current legal fight has roots in the passage of the original Sullivan Act in 1933, the 1981 Water Agreement between Asheville and Buncombe County, and the state Legislature’s adoption of Sullivan Acts II and III in 2005 in response to Asheville’s decision to pull out of the agreement. The city and county have spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on the court fight.

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