By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
The University of Wyoming and city of Laramie were both criticized for their unwillingness to settle a water dispute on Friday as the state Senate gave initial approval to a bill that would let the university develop its own water system without restriction by the city.
Senators voted to send House Bill 198 on to a second reading on Monday despite comments by several legislators that the bill should never have been submitted to the Legislature.
“In all candor, this bill is a disgrace,” said Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper. “(The UW and Laramie) have chosen to fight, chosen to lawyer up and brought a mess to us. But if we don’t pass this bill, there will be an extensive lawsuit and further difficulties and we may have to spend money on both the university and the city getting things right.”
According to testimony offered during a hearing by the Senate Corporations Committee on Thursday, the city began providing water at no cost to irrigate the university’s Jacoby Golf Course in the 1950s. In exchange the course was opened to the public.
In 2007, Laramie began charging for the irrigation water and Rep. Bob Nicholas, the bill’s sponsor, said the annual cost is now close to $200,000.
The university has drilled two wells on land adjoining the golf course and had planned to irrigate the course with those wells, however, the city adopted an ordinance forbidding other entities from transporting water across city boundaries without obtaining a permit. The ordinance blocked the university from using the wells to irrigate the course.
HB198 would prohibit any city or county from restricting the university as in the construction of water systems or the use of its water.
Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told the Senate the Legislature was left in a difficult situation.
“This is kind of a sticky wicket bill,” he said. “We’ve had an ongoing dispute pushing 15 years now between the university and the city of Laramie. This will cost us money if it doesn’t get solved via this means because we’ll go to court. It means we’ll pay out of pocket for attorneys for both sides.”
Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, said the bill amounted to “litigation in the Legislature,” where each side in the dispute tried to get favorable legislation introduced.
“Who was the fastest to make a power play with the Legislature and get a bill slammed through,” she said. “That’s what happened. That’s what this bill is. I am disappointed in the parties.”
Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, questioned why the Legislature would want to get involved in a local fight.
“This is about who could get here the quickest with the biggest gun,” he said. “It’s going to cost money and now we’re going to adjudicate a decision. This is just the wrong way to do this.”
The bill was approved for further debate on the Senate floor by a vote of 14-12.