Fri, Dec. 06

Verde Lakes faces cease-and-desist order

Jim Young, president of the Verde Lakes Recreation, Inc., the group that owns and maintains two small ponds called Verde Lakes in Camp Verde, has received by mail an unsigned default judgment.

The copy puts the recreational group on notice that a hearing is on the horizon. If signed by a Superior Court judge, could force VLRC to cease taking water from the Wingfield Ditch.

"Back in 1900, there was a court action, a stipulation that parties entered into, that set out the water use on West Clear Creek, adjudicated water rights. It set it up first through fifth rights," explained Attorney Doug Brown, legal counsel for Park Central Properties (Clive Jordan and partner), who is suing. "Our clients are successors to first-right holders. The land the Verde Lakes is located on was not included in that decree. They have no rights, let alone a later right. The other users on the Wingfield Ditch above Verde Lakes are decreed users, fifth right," Brown explained.

Young said that VLRC has been paying Wingfield Ditch officials for the past 20 years.

"We have paid water rights to the Wingfield Ditch since 1982 (currently about $300/year). If they're selling it to us illegally, we didn't know anything about it," he said.

To further complicate matters, he said they too have sold water rights to their members.

The proposed cease-and-desist document states, among other things:

• The Verde Lakes are filled with Clear Creek water diverted from Wingfield Ditch #1 … which is upstream from the head gate of the Pioneer Ditch.

•The Pioneer Ditch is used to divert West Clear Creek water to Park Central Properties and other first right holders under the 1900 Decree.

• On Thursday, May 29, 2003, Park Central Properties conducted an onsite investigation and observed that a substantial amount of Clear Creek water was flowing out of the Wingfield Ditch #1 into the Verde Lakes.

Brown said they are just waiting for a hearing date to be set by Superior Court. He indicated that Verde Lakes Recreation, Inc. was served a summons several months ago but did not respond. Because of their unwillingness to respond, he said, a hearing for the default judgment is inevitable.

"We have not heard from anyone from Verde Lakes Recreational ever," Brown said.

Young explained that they first became aware of water right issues three years ago involving several parties, but were assured they would all be resolved. Now, he said, that does not seem to be the case. He said VCRL was served in September of 2003. He said it is not that they did not want to respond, but do not have funds to pay for legal representation.

"We have no one out there who could come up with the money. We defaulted, because we cannot afford an attorney to represent us," Young explained.

He said estimates for legal services, because of the complicated issues involved, could cost as much as $40,000.

Brown indicated that even if the judgment goes through, it would not mean that the ponds must be drained, but would stop further water diversion from the ditch into the ponds.

Among his many concerns, Young points out the lack of fire hydrants in the Verde Lakes community. He said that he has been told that the ponds are needed for fire department use in the event of fires, house or otherwise.

"It's the most accessible water for over 800 homes at Verde Lakes," said Young.

He goes on to say that loss of the water could endanger wildlife, mentioning birds, foul and fish.

"I know for a fact there are endangered species in Clear Creek that feeds into the ponds," he said.

Young indicated that he had contacted environmentalist groups, the local fire department and the county attorney for help but, so far, no one seems to have an easy answer.

In recent months, VLRC, consisting of about 20-30 paying members (around $20/year), has been discussing with town officials the idea of making the long-time recreational area a town park. Young said that although they knew of this water issue for sometime, felt it was not a problem and not the main reason they were attempting to work something out with the town. A lack of liability insurance was among several concerns.

CV Town Manager Bill Lee said on Friday that they continue to investigate and research the issue to see if it makes good sense to take the lake area over. He said they are aware of the pending legal matter.

"Even if they did not have the water rights associated with that property, those grounds could be maintained as a town park and would certainly have benefit to the community who lives in and around those lakes. If water was not available, our intention would probably be to fill it in and use it as a park. We're hoping that's not what happens though," said Lee.

VLRC is owner, confirmed Young, who said that above everything else he hopes community members join the association to help them in their ongoing struggles, including the reported water diversion matter.

"The town is just one option. What we need more than anything is a way to generate more money to maintain the Verde Lakes. Before the water goes, I will exhaust every possible resource to save it," said Young.

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