Local Commentary

Editorial: Water Lawsuit Inevitability?

Citizens of Fairfax County who get their water from the Falls Church Water System run the risk of a significant increase in their water rates caused not by the rising cost of water or energy to move it, but by a legal battle that will cost millions to wage.

While County and Falls Church City officials aren’t talking face to face, the County’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Monday night to reject a settlement offer from the City, thus ensuring that the pricey legal proceedings must escalate. It is a great irony that while the leaders of both jurisdictions – the mighty Fairfax County with a million residents and the tiny City of Falls Church with 11,400 – share a similar political outlook, both predominantly Democratic, and otherwise work together amicably on regional interests, on this matter they haven’t found a way to sit down and talk, and hopefully save the taxpayers huge sums of money that will otherwise go into high-priced lawyers’ pockets.

 

According to Fairfax Supervisor Penny Gross, she held an initial conversation with Falls Church officials on the matter, but the minute the legal filings began, any hopes of more such conversations were dashed. Once the matter is in litigation, informal discussions are out of bounds, she told us, conceding that it is “frustrating” that litigation has intervened to prevent a continuation of the history of good personal relations on both sides that have prevailed on other issues. Gross added that the County Supervisors rejected the City’s settlement offer “because it was not a real offer,” adding that at this moment, “We are a long way from a meeting of the minds.”

As reflected in the language of the City’s latest counter lawsuit against the County’s current legal action, Falls Church’s posture toward the matter is a firmly defensive one that sees the County in an aggressive, adversarial mode aimed at harming the City water system’s continued ability to do business in the County. If this is the case, then it is hard to see where a “meeting of the minds” would be possible, unless the City’s perception of the County’s intentions is simply false. However, when it comes to the immense volume of revenues at stake for whomever stands to gain most from the huge development of Tysons Corner beyond its present level, there can hardly be illusions. If the County is not trying to bully the City in order to gain the lion’s share of this great opportunity, it could be asked, why not?

Therefore, it may be that only the courts can resolve a matter such as this, as expensive as that may be. Falls Church is claiming it is an abused party, and Fairfax is claiming it has a right to do what it is doing. If it is akin to a “bully vs. victim” dispute, then talking it through simply won’t work. That is for a judge and the full weight of the law to discern. We hate to admit it, but in this case, it appears that there may be no good way around relying on the U.S. judicial system.

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