- Associated Press - Monday, September 29, 2014

LODGE GRASS, Mont. (AP) - A battle between the town of Lodge Grass and a subdivision on the Crow Indian Reservation over delinquent water bills has left 500 residents without drinkable water and caused the Crow Housing Authority to spend more than the reported delinquency amount to provide water services to the subdivision.

Lodge Grass began negotiating with the tribe in September 2013 over what it now says are $70,000 in overdue water bills from residents of the Johnny Wilson Acres subdivision. The subdivision is on tribal land and had an agreement with the town of Lodge Grass to provide water.

The Crow Housing Authority agreed to make $4,000 in monthly payments, Lodge Grass Clerk and Treasurer Rae Dawn Ten Bear said. The town received a $4,050 payment in February, but no further money.

Lodge Grass employees began shutting off water to the most delinquent residents of the subdivision in early September, but they were soon stopped by U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs officers. The housing authority was granted an injunction in tribal court that asked town employees to stay out of the subdivision.

Ten Bear said the injunction voided previous arrangements that allowed the town to provide services to the subdivision. “Once you terminate a contract, you can’t continue getting services free,” Ten Bear told The Billings Gazette.

The town shut off water to the entire subdivision on Sept. 15, even those who were current on their bills.

Crow Housing Authority executive director Karl Little Owl said the town had no jurisdiction to shut off water. Ten Bear countered the town doesn’t answer to the housing authority.

The Crow Tribe’s executive branch issued an order on Sept. 25 to restore water service. The tribe bypassed the town and restored service late that day, but Chairman Darrin Old Coyote advised residents not to drink the water because it hadn’t been tested yet.

Old Coyote also questioned the $70,000 the town said it was owed, arguing the delinquent list includes people who are deceased.

Little Owl said that through Sept. 26, the housing authority had spent nearly $80,000 providing subdivision residents with portable toilets, portable showers and a water truck.

The tribal court issued a warrant for the arrest of acting Lodge Grass Mayor Birdie Lion Shows on Friday for failing to attend a tribal hearing about the matter on Sept. 23. Town attorney Ron Arneson said he arranged for Lion Shows to surrender Saturday and post a $350 bond.

However, once she was jailed, he said he was told the court order stated she had to remain in jail until her arraignment. It was not clear when she might make a court appearance.


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