- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A rural water association again won permission to drill wells despite the city of Tupelo’s opposition, but the dispute could be headed to a settlement.

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (https://bit.ly/1sSpqfN) reports that the Mississippi Environmental Quality Permit Board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve six water wells that the North Lee Water County Association plans, rejecting Tupelo’s challenge.

The permit board, which first approved the plans in March, heard more than five hours of testimony in the case Tuesday after Tupelo requested a hearing.

Tupelo could appeal the finding to chancery court, but lawyers for both sides say a settlement may be near. Tupelo city attorney Ben Logan said North Lee had made an offer to settle the issue that might make any appeal unnecessary.

North Lee draws water from the Eutaw-McShan aquifer. In the early 1990s, the city of Tupelo was forced to stop pumping water from wells and begin piping it from the Tombigbee River because the Department of Environmental Quality determined water levels in the aquifer had become dangerously low.

DEQ staff, which recommended to the permit board that the North Lee applications be approved, says that with Tupelo no longer relying on ground water, the aquifer has refilled.

But the city maintains DEQ did not consider all the evidence. Logan argued that northern Lee County is growing quickly and continued use of wells in those areas “will produce the same threat to the aquifer that Tupelo did 20 to 30 years ago.”

Another issue in the dispute is that Tupelo has annexed some of the North Lee area where the association wants to drill wells. The city says it must run water lines for fire hydrants and could provide household water to the area at the same time.

Logan said it is “a common sense” solution to prevent duplication and hold down costs. North Lee is borrowing more than $8 million in federal funds for the expansion.

But Beasley said the city forced duplication by choosing to annex about 10 percent of North Lee’s about 4,500 customers.

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com

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