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Greig faces yet another lawsuit over long-proposed water project

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LOWVILLE — The town of Greig once again is facing litigation over a long-proposed bulk-water project.

In a state Supreme Court lawsuit filed last week in the Lewis County clerk’s office, John T. and Lynn L. Smoke, Bangor, Pa., are challenging a recent decision by the Greig town Planning Board not to consider a special permit application to install an 8-inch pipeline on their property off Sweeney and Greig roads.

“The Town of Greig is without jurisdiction to attempt to enforce its zoning law or to regulate the use of land outside of its own boundaries and the determination therein constitutes an unlawful attempt to extend such jurisdiction and authority,” states the lawsuit, filed by Rome attorney Raymond A. Meier.

For more than a decade, the Smokes have been working to develop a facility for the collection, bulk storage and shipment of spring water, but many residents have opposed it. In response, the couple has proposed building a facility off Burdicks Crossing Road in the town of Turin and constructing a water line under the Black River to connect the spring on their Greig property with the proposed building under the auspices of the Hidden Falls Spring Water project.

The Smokes in August filed an application to install 6,100 feet of pipeline in the town of Greig, with plans for an additional 8,400 feet in the town of Turin, according to legal filings. However, the Greig Planning Board at its September meeting declined to consider the application, suggesting that it is an accessory to a proposed loading facility in Turin and that zoning authorization for commercial activity on the Greig property first must be obtained. Board Chairman Steven J. Olmstead reiterated that sentiment in subsequent letters to Mr. Meier, including one dated Oct. 17 saying that despite the attorney’s counter-arguments, the board would stick to its decision.

Letters from the town referred to a July 2012 decision by state Supreme Court Judge Hugh A. Gilbert that struck down the town of Greig’s 2010 water-extraction law but affirmed a town Zoning Board of Appeals ruling that the proposed water operation should not be considered a pre-existing use. Judge Gilbert wrote that the Smokes’ application for a special-use permit for the pipeline “would appear to be premature” without the town’s first permitting commercial use of the wells.

In the new suit, Mr. Meier argues that pipelines are listed in town zoning law as a permitted use and should not require any additional project approvals. He also suggests the Greig Planning Board exceeded its authority by trying to regulate use of water resources after the judge threw out the town’s water law, noting the state has exclusive oversight of water regulation, and by prohibiting a use that is in another town.

The application makes no request to construct anything in the town of Greig other than the pipeline, the lawsuit states.

The Smokes are asking the court to force the town Planning Board to accept their application and rule that the board has no authority to require additional approvals to use water from their property.

Town Attorney Mark G. Gebo said he had yet to see paperwork on the new filing.

The Smokes in the early 2000s initially asked the Greig Town Council to put their property into a floating zone to allow a bulk-water operation to commence there, but the council withheld action to await a full environmental assessment, and the request eventually was dropped.

The town Planning Board later denied a request to construct a warehouse building and storage silo on the Smokes’ property, suggesting its use as a wholesaling operation did not comply with town law. That decision later was upheld by the ZBA and a pair of court rulings stemming from a prior lawsuit filed by the Smokes.

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