LETTER: Southwest Suburban Sewer District responds to Brett Fish’s letter
[EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a Reader. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The B-Town Blog nor its staff:]
Southwest Suburban Sewer District’s Response to Brett Fish’s Claims
I am writing on behalf of the Southwest Suburban Sewer District to respond to the Letter to the Editor written by Brett Fish that was published in The B-Town Blog on Monday, April 22, 2013 (read it here). The District does not intend to engage in a continuous, detailed public discussion of the entire history of this matter. However, because Brett Fish’s letter does not accurately portray the events the District feels compelled to respond in a limited manner in order to avoid any false impressions people may get from reading Brett Fish’s letter. From the District’s perspective, the District believes it has been working in good faith to address Brett Fish’s claims.
While the District is disappointed that Brett Fish has elected to air his version of the story in this public forum, the District is not surprised because Brett Fish has repeatedly threatened to go to the media in an effort to coerce the District to meet his demands. Brett Fish has made it clear through his communications with the District that the real motivation behind his current objection to the District’s use of the access road is to force the District to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair the house on the property which was damaged by a slide that first occurred in 2003 or, alternatively, to force the District to buy the property outright for as much as $1,800,000.00, which is apparently what Brett Fish believes his property is worth. In addition, it should be noted that Brett Fish continues to hold a belief that the District is responsible for the slides that have occurred on his property. The District has advised Brett Fish on multiple occasions over at least the last six years that if he believes he has a claim against the District relating to the slide that he should submit a formal notice of claim for damages and the District would turn the claim over to its insurer. Despite these repeated instructions, Brett Fish has never filed a notice of claim with the District or provided the District with any other information, technical data or engineering reports that demonstrate that the District is responsible for the slide on his property.
Brett Fish asserts in his letter that there has been a long history of violations relating to the use of the access road to the Miller Creek Treatment Plant dating back to 1986 or 1987 which he claims were brought to the District’s attention over the years. In reality, the District has been using the access road in a similar matter over the last 15-20 years without complaints or objections. In fact, the access road is actually being used less now than in prior years due to the reduction in the sale of compost. Furthermore, Brett Fish just recently brought the access road issue to the District’s attention on December 11, 2012. By his own words, Brett Fish described the District’s use of the access road as a “back burner” issue and he acknowledged that he has said little about this issue over the years. Instead, the two primary issues raised by Brett Fish on December 11, 2012 involved his request that the District eliminate or reduce his sewer charge given his minimal use of water and his concern that the District’s landscapers had not come for about three weeks at the peak of the leaf drop season and, as a result, he was forced to clean a portion of the access road leading down to the Miller Creek Treatment Plant.
On December 12, 2012, the District acknowledged Brett Fish’s concerns and began its efforts to negotiate a fair resolution of these claims. However, the initial negotiations stalled a bit when Brett Fish demanded that he be compensated for actions and activities that occurred over the last 20 to 26 years, even though he didn’t come into ownership of the property until 1998. In an effort to avoid an unnecessary escalation of this dispute, the District advised Brett Fish that it would temporarily cease using the access road for general district business until the District and Brett Fish could reach a written agreement to resolve this matter. In fact, Brett Fish has previously expressed his appreciation of the District’s efforts to work on resolving this matter.
On January 7, 2013, the District contacted Brett Fish to inquire whether he would like to attend the District Board of Commissioners meeting on January 8th to discuss his issues directly with the Board. Brett Fish attended the Board of Commissioners meeting on January 8th and he spoke to the Board about multiple issues, including the access road easement, landscape and maintenance issues, the slide damage and other issues relating to the failed purchase and sale transaction between Brett and Corey Fish, Cascade Land Conservancy and the City of Normandy Park back in 2009. During his statements, Brett Fish restated his belief that the District was responsible for the slide on his property and that the District needed to compensate him for his losses. During this meeting, Brett Fish and the District also discussed the access issues that had just recently been brought to the District’s attention and the District assured Brett Fish that it had a desire to work with him to address his concerns. During this meeting, Brett Fish specifically stated that he was reluctant to grant the District any additional access rights until the property damage issue was resolved because he viewed the access issues as giving him some bargaining power over the District. The District advised Brett Fish that if he would submit a formal claim for damages relating to the slide condition the District would commit to working with its insurer to investigate his claim. Brett Fish concluded his comments by indicating that he would need to consider the access issue further before he could respond to the District’s request for full accessibility through the access road. A copy of the Minutes from the January 8, 2013 Board meeting are available for review on the District’s website: http://www.swssd.com/uploads/1/1/2/5/11251631/2013_01-08_board_meeting_minutes.pdf
Even though the District believed that it had already acquired expanded rights of use of the access road through a prescriptive easement through its historic use of the access road over the past 15-20 years, in an effort to be fair to Brett Fish, the Board authorized negotiations with Brett Fish to reach a resolution of his claims and the District has expressed its willingness to pay a fair amount for its prior use of the access road, as well as for its future use of the access road. As a result of these negotiations, on January 14, 2013, the District and Brett Fish entered into a two year temporary license agreement which immediately addressed the access issue and also allowed the parties a two year window to complete their negotiations for a permanent easement that would address an expanded right of access consistent with the District’s use over the past 15-20 years. The temporary license agreement specifically authorized the District to use the access road “for all purposes associated with District business and operations” during daytime hours and not on weekends or holidays, except in cases of emergencies or sludge hauling scheduling issues. Despite Brett Fish’s claim that he signed the agreement under “extreme pressure, legal intimidation and threats to condemn his property,” it should be noted that the terms of the temporary license agreement were actually the terms that Brett Fish proposed to the District on January 10th. Further, in his communications with the District, Brett Fish acknowledged that for a monthly payment of $200 during the term of the temporary license agreement he was willing to sacrifice his privacy and peace and would allow the mostly unrestricted use of the access road. Therefore, the District denies the claim that Brett Fish was forced or coerced into signing the agreement.
Once the continued use of the access road was resolved, the District turned its attention to resolving Brett Fish’s claims that the District had previously used the access road in a manner beyond what was authorized in the original access easement and that he had performed certain landscaping and maintenance tasks over a number of years without compensation. The District made two offers to resolve these issues with Brett Fish which it believes were extremely fair under the circumstances. Unfortunately, Brett Fish was demanding significantly more than the District believed was fair and could be justified to its ratepayers under the facts and applicable law. On March 5, 2013, the District advised Brett Fish that his final demand had been rejected by the Board. The very next day, March 6, 2013, Brett Fish sent an email to the District indicating that since the District had rejected his “most modest offer” that he was unilaterally rescinding the temporary license agreement previously agreed to in January of 2013. The District has advised Brett Fish that it believes it has the legal right to continue using the access road consistent with the terms of the temporary licensing agreement. On March 7, 2013, Brett Fish sent another email to the District stating: “I’ve been in contact with several media agencies who are taking great interest in this story. . .. My counter-offer stands or get good at script writing and media interviews.”
Brett Fish has repeatedly made reference to an easement document dated January 14, 1987 which he claims supersedes the access easement dated January 9, 1986. Brett Fish claims that this later easement specifically provides that the access road may only be used during the time period between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. The District does not have any record of such an easement ever being signed. The District has repeatedly asked Brett Fish to provide the District with a copy of this easement. Brett Fish has indicated that he can’t locate this easement either, but he remembers seeing it before. The District does not believe that this easement exists. Moreover, the District has been using the access road on a consistent basis for more than 15 years during regular District business hours that are outside the 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. time period.
There are a number of legal issues relating to the claims between Brett Fish and the District that I don’t intend to go into. However, from the District’s perspective, I can honestly say that the District has been working with Brett Fish in good faith trying to resolve this matter. In contrast, the District believes that Brett Fish is attempting to use the access issue as a bargaining chip in an attempt to force the District to pay large sums of money to settle questionable claims and to otherwise coerce the District to repair his house or purchase his property for $1,800,000.00. While the District desires to resolve the current dispute with Brett Fish, the Board of Commissioners has a duty to do what it believes is in the best interest of all its ratepayers. The District has determined that it is unwilling to give in to Brett Fish’s current demands because doing so would unfairly increase the financial burden shared by the rest of the District’s ratepayers.
Southwest Suburban Sewer District
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