Attorney Trey Wilson - RL Wilson Law

07 March 2009

Wrongful Water Service Interruption Case Makes the Valley Media Again

Elderly residents to take Rio Hondo utility to trial
March 6, 2009 - 10:18 PM

By FERNANDO DEL VALLE/Valley Morning Star

RIO HONDO - Lawyers this week will take depositions from three elderly residents who claim the Rio Hondo Water Supply Corp. cut off water to their homes because they refused to grant an easement across their land for a water pipeline, an attorney said Friday.

Carl and Janel Parker and Carolina Ruiz plan to take the company to trial in state district court on May 13 for cutting off water to their homes on FM 510, Bob Schaezler, a San Antonio attorney who represents them, said.

Meanwhile, the water company has filed a request in state district court to condemn the customers' property. The company wants the land for a pipeline that is needed to provide water service to the growing area, said J.W. Dyer, a McAllen attorney who represents the company.

The customers claim the water company cut off their water because they refused to grant 20-foot easements for the pipeline, Schaezler said. "It's extortion," Schaezler said.

But Dyer said the company had the right to cut off water to Ruiz and the Parkers. The company said the water service was shut off because the customers failed to comply with an agreement that allows this action if an easement is refused, Dyer said.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality ordered the company to restore water service in the precedent-setting case, Andrea Morrow, a spokeswoman for the agency in Austin, said. "I have not heard of it before," Morrow said, referring to the company's action.

About 30 feet of land separates the customers' front doors from the proposed easement's edge, said family members who spoke for the customers. The water company refused the customers' officer of 10-foot easements, Schaezler said.

Ruiz's water was shut off for about three months last summer as the area recovered from Hurricane Dolly, said Patty Fajardo, Ruiz's granddaughter. Ruiz, who uses crutches to walk, hauled water from an irrigation canal to wash dishes, drank bottled water, and drove to her daughter's San Benito home to bathe, Fajardo said.
"She doesn't want (the water company) to have what she's worked for for so long," Fajardo said of her grandmother's refusal to grant the easement. "She worked out in the fields for years and years."

Dyer said Ruiz's home was damaged by Hurricane Dolly and she wasn't living there for months. But Fajardo said her grandmother remained in her home after the water was turned off. Dyer also said Ruiz wanted the company to pay her about $25,000 in exchange for an easement. But Fajardo denied her grandmother tried to sell the land.

Water to the Parkers' home was turned off from July 30 to 31 and Aug. 13 to 22, Linda Swartz, the couple's granddaughter, said. They used bottled water to drink and bathe, she said. The couple fears the company would cut some trees if they granted the easement, Swartz said.

But Dyer said the company would cut only one tree to install the pipeline.

TCEQ ordered the water company to restore water service to the customers.

In a Nov. 12 order, TCEQ said the company is prohibited by law from cutting off water if customers refused to grant it easements.

"I think (TCEQ) way overstepped their bounds," Dyer said of the agency's order.

Trey Wilson --Named By Scene in SA Magazine As One of San Antonio's Best Real Estate Litigation Attorneys -- September 2008 -- As voted on by peers