A temporary restraining order filed this week by Prosser contractor Tom Paul has for now stopped the city of Sunnyside's project to pipe a Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District (SVID) ditch near South First Street.
The ditch piping work is a separate project from the city's efforts to widen South First Street, but covering the ditch will later tie into the widened roadway, said Sunnyside City Attorney Mark Kunkler.
Paul said he filed the order because city officials were violating an injunction that both he and Sunnyside agreed to earlier this spring.
"I own the land up to the water," Paul said of the property adjoining the canal. He contends that Sunnyside's permission from SVID to cover the ditch using the district's easement doesn't change the fact that the work would be on his property-thus violating the injunction agreement.
Jim Trull, SVID's district manager, said the irrigation district will intervene "to protect our interest in the easement we have."
Trull said SVID's legal staff is now researching whether the district has an easement or right-of-way on lands next to the canal.
Either way, he said, SVID needs access to its irrigation system.
"People have the right to know what our authority is in maintaining our facilities," he said. Even though property owners occasionally question SVID's entry on to their property, Trull said none have gone to the lengths Paul has.
"It's unusual that it's gotten to this point," Trull observed. "But there's a history with him (Paul) and the city that's brought us into it."
That history includes the injunction agreement reached when Paul claimed his property line on the 4.37 acres he owns along South First Street is 15 feet from the center of the roadway.
The city contended that the property line was further back, then removed signs and fence posts on what it said was public right-of-way.
The history again soured recently when the city issued a citation to Paul regarding four signs on his property, which include political signs.
Under terms agreed to by both Paul and Sunnyside, city officials maintain they still retain the right to enforce the sign code.
"There is a citation out for four signs on the property," Kunkler said. "The aim is to achieve compliance with our code regarding temporary signs."
Paul saw it differently.
Noting the sign code citation he received carries a potential of 90 days in jail, Paul said he will seek a jury trial. "This is nothing more than corrupt government officials trying to silence my constitutionally protected free speech rights with the threat of prison time," Paul said in an e-mail.
Kunkler said the maximum penalties of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine are "rarely imposed".
Paul then raised the stakes with the restraining order issued on Monday of this week.
That has led to another possible concern for the city.
Kunkler said the city was notified that the contractor might claim delay damages of $16,000 per day for the inability to complete work on covering the SVID irrigation ditch.
If damages are imposed-at this point they would add up to $48,000-Kunkler said the city will forward them on to Paul for payment since his restraining order stopped the project.
The restraining order comes to a head this Friday afternoon when Sunnyside, Paul and SVID will all appear before a judge in Superior Court.
. John Fannin can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or e-mail email@example.com
John Fannin/Daily Sun News
Work on covering the SVID irrigation ditch near South First Street in Sunnyside came to a halt this week when property owner Tom Paul filed a temporary restraining order. The political signs in the background were erected by Paul in protest of other city activities.