The Shawnee Municipal Authority has filed a lawsuit to determine the identity of a water district as it relates to Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

The Shawnee Municipal Authority has filed a lawsuit to determine the identity of a water district as it relates to Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

A petition for declaratory judgment centers on the legal status of Pottawatomie County Rural District No. 3 and points to lost revenues from territory encroachment.

The lawsuit, which states CPN purchased certain assets of RWD No. 3 and now owns and operates the entity, using the assets it acquired, calls into question the operating status.

“The CPN water district,” it reads, “at times calls itself Pottawatomie County [RWD No. 3] and at other times it refers to itself as the Citizen Potawatomi Nation doing business as Pottawatomie County [RWD No. 3].”

The lawsuit later claims the water district utilizes the benefits conferred by Oklahoma law on rural water districts, without complying with Oklahoma state law, yet also simultaneously asserts the protections of a sovereign tribal nation.

“The dual-identity is detrimental to the ability of the Authority and its Trustees to operate and provide water service to its customers and service its bonds,” the document reads, adding the unknown legal status has resulted in lost revenues.

CPN Tribal Chairman John “Rocky” Barrett said CPN Public Works and RWD No. 3 are separate entities.

“CPN Public Works department sells water on Federal Tribal Trust land,” he said. “Rural Water District sells water in Pottawatomie County under state law.”

The lawsuit stems from a letter the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) sent to Shawnee City Attorney Mary Ann Karns in December 2014. In it, the OWRB notes it has been made aware of the case regarding CPN’s “petition of detachment of certain lands currently served by the Shawnee Public Works Authority.”

“The OWRB,” the letter reads, “is concerned about this action and the possible effect that it may have on our outstanding loans…”

Information provided by Cindy Sementelli, Shawnee’s finance director and treasurer, shows the four mentioned loans, as of March 25, have final payment dates ranging from 2017-2031 and a collective, current total balance of $16,789,232.

The OWRB letter concludes with a request that the letter’s contents be considered as action between the city and CPN moves forward.

Karns recently confirmed a judge, in July, would set a trial date for the mentioned detachment case. On what implications the letter has on that case, she said, “It is a reason for denial of the detachment, so the judge will determine the effect.”

Commissioner Keith Hall also spoke to the detachment issue. He and Commissioner James Harrod, in their capacity as SMA Trustees, are listed as plaintiffs on the petition for declaratory judgment. Hall said the OWRB letter’s implications are huge.

“Perhaps more significantly, if commissioners do want to comply with oath of office, then they cannot in good conscience approve any type of action that would allow the deannextion process to proceed,” Hall said. “If [the] court decides something differs of course, then the commissioners are not responsible.”

Barrett called the water district lawsuit an outrageous waste of money and a travesty of law.

“The city solicited the letter from the Oklahoma Water Resource Board in order to manufacture a reason for a lawsuit. The letter contains no basis for a lawsuit. Additionally, the city is venue shopping by not filing the lawsuit in Pottawatomie County,” Barrett said of the petition filed in Oklahoma County District Court.

In response to the OWRB’s letter to Karns, CPN Attorney Gregory Quinlan sent a letter to the OWRB. That letter, dated April 16, states the tribe’s petition for detachment of certain lands does not include any lands currently served by the Authority and points out the Authority is not even mentioned in that litigation.

Quinlan’s letter also highlights related history.

“In response to the City of Shawnee’s declaration that it would not provide additional water and sewer service to the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s federal trust land,” it reads, “the Nation made alternative provisions to supply its trust lands with its own water and sewer service.”

Interim City Manager Justin Erickson said Thursday he is not aware of any declaration.

Hall said, based on the information he has, Quinlan’s statement is inaccurate.

“The city always said it would provide service, it just needed to know how big to build the lift station… they never did respond,” he said.

Included in the lawsuit is a request for a determination directly involving customers.

“An order stating that such entity illegally disconnected the Authority’s customers within the Authority’s service territory, that those customers are customers of the Authority and that the costs of disconnecting those customers and reconnecting them to the authority is the obligation of such entity,” it states.

Barrett questioned who would provide water to customers in RWD No. 3 if the city could force the district out of business.

“Certainly not the City of Shawnee,” he said. “Shawnee’s sale of water to the Pottawatomie County Development Authority has resulted in Bethel Acres having the highest priced water in Oklahoma, nearly three times the price of the City of Shawnee and [RWD No. 3] water.”

The lawsuit also seeks a judgment determining the Authority is not in breach of its loan contracts with the OWRB by virtue of the acts of CPN and RWD No. 3.

At Monday’s 6:30 p.m. Shawnee City Commission meeting, the SMA could decide to include the December 2014 OWRB letter in citizens’ monthly water bill.