One issue remains before Prichard, water board can settle fire hydrant suit

Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 5:28 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - The city of Prichard and the independent water board that serves residents there and in Chickasaw have been saying for more than a year now that they are close to settling a long-running lawsuit over fire hydrants.

Now, just one issue remains before the lawsuit can be put to bed, according to the board’s lawyer.

The city disputes the authority of the Prichard Water Works & Sewer Board to raise fire hydrant fees. The city wants to raise the fee from $27 per working fire hydrant to $32. Board attorney Jay Ross said Prichard has 1,054 working hydrants.

Mobile County Circuit Judge Michael Youngpeter, who held a status hearing Friday, will decide that dispute in the next few weeks.

The city sued in 2018, claiming nonworking hydrants were jeopardizing public safety. The water board filed a counterclaim alleging the city improperly filed criminal charges against utility employees.

Since 2019, the city has been paying fire hydrant fees into an escrow account controlled by the court.

Ross said under the settlement, those funds – more than $1 million – would be paid to the water board. And the water board would pay the city more than $257,000 in withheld franchise fees form 2022.

The city’s original civil complaint accused the water board of failing to maintain fire hydrants, alleging more than 100 fire hydrants were not up to code, including some that were outright out of service or even missing.

Based on the allegations, the city disputed a bill of more than $240,000 and also sought a court order mandating repairs.

The water board ultimately shut off service to city-owned properties in summer 2018 – including City Hall, which caused a sewage backup.

The board voted last year to pay license fees it had withheld since 2021. The judge ordered the two sides to meet with a mediator to hammer out a final agreement, and Ross expressed optimism that the suit would be settled then. A year and a half later, though, the dispute drags on.