Business owner fights for city water after well dried up - | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Business owner fights for city water after well dried up

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One Austin business owner told FOX 7 that when his well went dry on his commercial property, he turned to the city for help. Three years later, he's still fighting for something. He believes he has a right to city water.

You could call Lake Travis the measuring stick to evaluate the depth of the destructive drought.

"It's absurd," said Jon Payne, who owns commercial property.

But Payne has his own reminder on his very own property.

"The truck would back up to this fire hydrant right here," Payne said.

He and his family own six commercial buildings along Highway 620, which used to belong to Austin Community College. In 2010, Mother Nature gave him a wakeup call.

"It shouldn't be this way for anyone," Payne said.

The well dried up and daycares and other businesses on his property had no water.

"We had to have water shipped in every morning. Instead of paying $300 per month for water, we were paying $3,000," Payne said.

But, oddly enough Payne soon realized this wasn't even close to his biggest problem.

"I'm now coming up on the 3rd year of fighting this every day," Payne said.

City water officials told Payne to properly connect to a city water source he would need to run a pipe line under the parking lot and down their property line at his own expense.

"They made an agreement with us for emergency connection," Payne said.

The city set up that emergency temporary connection retrieving water from a fire hydrant by using this hose. The system was working well for several months, until Payne says the city threatened to shut off his water again.

"We spent $20,000 out of our pocket and now they said you have to abandon that and we are having to go with a completely different idea and go do this plan over here," Payne said.

Here's what he's talking about. This contract from 2011 shows the city agreed that the work, inspectors suggested would satisfy the requirements for city water service. But several months later documents show the city changed the requirements and threatened to shut off water again.

"They were not treated fairly," Licensed plumber and former city water inspector Monty Lowell said.

Lowell is a licensed plumbing inspector who retired from the city of Austin two years ago. In fact, Lowell says he wrote the city's property code that pertains to the Payne's concerns.

"They were forced to get TxDOT permits to dig, up the right of way and dig up the parking lot. They installed meters on private property and they had to give up all these easements and for them to have the audacity to come up with all this stuff that that we only approved this as temporary because this isn't according to their standards?" Lowell said.

A city water employee told FOX 7 the initial agreement wasn't carried out because the inspector who agreed to it didn't have the power to do so. He also said even if the project had been completed, it wouldn't have solved all of Payne's water problems. So where do things stand now?

Payne says the city threatened to shut off their water yet again and he may have to pay over $200,000 for more infrastructure.

"There are a lot of moving parts," Jason Hill of Austin City Water said.

Hill says this situation is a complicated one because it involves a lot of different departments and getting a formal agreement together is a tedious job.

"When you look at situations like this they are varied. There's a lot of moving parts where you take one part and there's he said she said and frustration. It's part of it," Hill said.

Hill says the city has done everything possible to ensure water service to the Payne's and that the water disconnection notices were due to the Payne's failure to present new plans for additional development.

FOX 7 asked, "Do you agree 3 years is a long time?"

Hill replied, "Not really.... it's complicated."

"But would you agree this is a long time?" Fox 7 asked.

"Not necessarily, this is a complicated issue and one that requires the other party to respond in a timely fashion," Hill said.

"I've literally done everything within my power and jumped through every hoop and we are still having to fight this," Payne said.

"Literally the city of Austin is strong arming the Paynes to put in the city infrastructure that is not according to code that is adopted by the city," Lowell said.

At last check, city water officials told FOX 7 they have met about several proposals for Payne's property and they will need more time to decide on the best resolution.

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