By Sterling McGinn

The years-long sewer litigation between Pentland Township and the Village of Newberry has ended.

Honorable John Economopoulos, Circuit Court Judge, signed the final order of consent on March 20. The settlement agreement between the two municipalities was approved on March 14 at a special meeting of the Newberry Village Council. It had been a major topic at Newberry Village and Pentland board meetings for more than four years.

Pentland Township filed a lawsuit against the Village of Newberry on September 6, 2019, to resolve disputes over billings from the village for wastewater treatment services dating back to at least 2017, along with other lingering wastewater issues.

The original court filings claimed that the Village of Newberry was unlawfully charging the Pentland Township users of the area wastewater treatment plant 11.4 percent of what the village claimed to be its costs, despite Pentland Township’s contribution of only five to six percent of the wastewater flow to the plant.

Pentland Township declined to pay the billings until the matter was resolved. Prior to the agreement, the last payment Newberry received from Pentland Township was in 2020 for $50,000.

In January 2023, the village council unanimously voted to reject the final settlement offer with a check from the township. The village had also filed a motion to dismiss most of the township’s claims in the litigation. In a June 2023 status hearing, the judge granted dismissal of some of the claims. Another round of mediations was also required, which took place in February of this year.

Pentland Township is planning to construct a sewer lagoon system to eventually disconnect from the village’s wastewater treatment plant.

Also known as an effluent pond, a lagoon system would bring sewage from the township to a lagoon, where it is broken down by the aid of sunlight, wind, and algae. Pentland Township purchased a parcel of land for a lagoon in August, though its location has not been disclosed in an open meeting.

The Newberry News obtained a copy of the final judgment order from the Village of Newberry through the Freedom of Information Act. The following stipulations were contained in the document, which explains the process of the two municipalities moving forward following the agreement.

—Each party hereby remises, releases, acquits, satisfies, and forever discharges the other party of and from all sums of money, accounts, actions, suits, proceedings, claims, demands, covenants, contracts, controversies, agreements, promises, damages, and demands whatsoever, in law or in equity, which the party ever had or now has, or by reason of any matter, cause or thing whatsoever, whether known or unknown at the time of execution of these stipulations.

—Plaintiff (Pentland) shall pay $350,000 to defendant (Village) within seven calendar days from receipt of the court’s signature on this final order of consent.

—The $350,000 payment shall be plaintiff’s final payment for wastewater treatment services and charges covering the years 2017 through 2023.

—Plaintiff shall pay to defendant $6,600 per month for wastewater treatment services within seven calendar days from the date of each monthly regular Pentland Township Board meeting. Defendant shall provide an annualized invoice reflecting the monthly charge to Pentland for each year’s treatment services.

—The $6,600 per month payment shall be plaintiff’s total per-month payment for wastewater treatment services and charges beginning on January 1, 2024 and ending on December 31, 2026. Payments for January 2024 and February 2024 shall be made at the time plaintiff makes the $350,000 payment to defendant.

—Defendant shall provide wastewater treatment services to Plaintiff beginning on January 1, 2024, and ending on December 31, 2026, in exchange for plaintiff’s $6,600 per month payment.

—If at any time plaintiff is more than 30 calendar days past due on its $6,600 monthly payment to defendant, plaintiff’s payment of said month shall increase by $1,000 per month for each successive 30 calendar days plaintiff’s payment is past due. The parties agree that these increases are liquidated damages.

—Plaintiff intends to have constructed its own wastewater treatment system by December 31, 2026, but if plaintiff completes its system prior to that date then, upon the complete cessation of any wastewater generated by plaintiff entering into defendant’s collection system, plaintiff’s responsibility for further $6,600 monthly payments shall cease and the payment for the final month of plaintiff’s use shall be prorated.

—Defendant supports plaintiff’s intended wastewater treatment system and will provide a written statement unequivocally and unconditionally reflecting the same upon request of the plaintiff.

—Plaintiff’s counsel shall update defendant’s counsel on the status of plaintiff’s wastewater system every six months beginning from the date of this final order by consent until December 31, 2026. If at any time plaintiff learns that it will be unable to or unlikely to construct its wastewater system, plaintiff’s counsel shall inform defendant’s counsel within 14 calendar days.

—Plaintiff shall inform defendant, through their respective public works departments, any time that plaintiff receives an application for a new sewer hookup, within seven days from receipt of an application.

—Plaintiff shall report the total monthly flow it contributes to defendant’s wastewater system during all time it remains connected to the system.

—In the event that plaintiff has not constructed its wastewater treatment system on December 31, 2026, it may continue to remain connected to defendant’s wastewater treatment system for one additional year. In that case, plaintiff’s monthly payment shall increase to $7,000 per month.

—If plaintiff has not constructed its wastewater system for the 2027 calendar year, and it must remain connected beyond 2027 for any reason, then the parties shall share the cost (15 percent of the cost to plaintiff and 85 percent of the cost to defendant) for a periodic rate study for defendant’s wastewater treatment plant and agree that the charge determined by the rate study for the plaintiff’s sewer system as a bulk user of the defendant’s wastewater system shall be the charge that plaintiff pays for wastewater treatment services, unless that parties otherwise agree. The periodic rate studies that determine the charge to plaintiff and in with plaintiff and defendant share the cost shall not occur more than every three years.