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Judge lifts restraining order

YAKIMA - In the rarest of judicial outcomes, all sides came away seemingly happy following an appearance in Superior Court last Friday by the city of Sunnyside, Prosser contractor Tom Paul and the Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District (SVID).

The three parties appeared before Superior Court Judge Jim Lust in response to a temporary restraining order filed last Monday by Paul, which halted Sunnyside's progress in piping and covering an SVID irrigation ditch near South First Street.

The first matter decided was SVID's right to intervene in the case. Larry Martin, a Yakima attorney representing the district, told Lust that SVID has an interest in the case to defend its historical right to a 40-foot easement along the district's irrigation system.

Addressing the court on speaker phone from San Francisco, Paul's attorney, J.J. Sandlin, replied that his client's fight was with Sunnyside, not SVID.

Sandlin accused Sunnyside of "hiding behind" the contract agreement with SVID as a "back door" to enter Paul's property, in violation of an injunction both the city and Paul agreed to in April.

Lust sided with SVID and allowed the district to be a participant in the case, a decision which prompted Sandlin to retort, "Welcome to the party!"

In calling for a lifting of the temporary restraining order, Sunnyside City Attorney Mark Kunkler argued the city was only attempting to finish covering the ditch as part of a public safety project that will utilize $2.5 million in federal and state grants. In a related move, Sunnyside also plans to widen South First Street.

"With an understanding from SVID we are only using the right of way (on Paul's property) consistent with improvements to SVID's system," Kunkler argued.

Kunkler noted the ditch covering project is 75 percent complete, with only the portion adjoining Paul's property remaining to complete.

Sandlin countered that Sunnyside is attempting to widen South First by taking Paul's land rather than negotiating a purchase at fair market value.

Further, Sandlin and Paul charged that Sunnyside was using compacted materials in filling the ditch, consistent with road building standards. "If they were just going to cover the ditch they would use fill dirt," Sandlin said.

Kunkler asserted that Sunnyside was not attempting to build a road through Paul's property. He explained that portions of the piped ditch adjacent to Paul's property would be covered with fill dirt, not compacted materials.

Lust resolved the issue by lifting the temporary restraining order, enabling Sunnyside to complete the SVID ditch project.

At the same time, he expressed concern the city still had not arranged a three-day evidentiary hearing in Superior Court regarding another conflict with Paul.

In that issue, Paul contends his property line extends 15 feet from the center line of South First. The city maintains that the line is 30 feet from the center of the road.

Noting he saw no other way to resolve the conflict, Lust ordered Sunnyside to arrange the hearing or the court will impose a date.

Kunkler said he would proceed with setting a hearing date after Sandlin returns from San Francisco this Wednesday.

"I think the judge was right in the ruling," Kunkler said later of Lust's decision to lift the restraining order. "It was a win-win for everybody."

Paul agreed, despite losing on two fronts-SVID's successful bid to intervene and Lust's decision to remove the restraining order.

He said he was happy to hear the city of Sunnyside state in a court of law that it would not build a road through his property. "They have no legal right to build a road," Paul said.

Lust's frustration with Sunnyside over the lack of an evidentiary hearing was also a victory for him, Paul felt.

"I want to get it settled," he said of the property line dispute. "The sooner the better," he added with a smile. "So we can move on."

As of this morning (Monday) the city of Sunnyside was moving forward to complete the SVID ditch project. Public Works Director Jim Bridges said the project should wrap up in four to seven days.

Even as the dust settles on Friday's court appearance, Sunnyside officials have indicated they will pursue Paul for costs associated with the litigation he filed.

"Mr. Paul's most recent attempt to block the First Street project resulted in the City incurring additional costs that could exceed $68,000 plus attorney fees," City Manager Bob Stockwell said.

Stockwell contends that the temporary restraining order was just the latest of attacks by Paul on the city of Sunnyside in an attempt to prevent the widening of South First Street.

He added that Sunnyside's contractor "was stopped with all their personnel and equipment idled for four days at a critical time in completing the project."

As a result, Stockwell said the city will "take all necessary actions to recover all of its costs in defending this malicious abuse of the legal system from Mr. Paul and his attorney."

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