Randy Mason just wants to get his church's youth center up and running.
But he can't do that without water. And because of a service rights dispute between Marshalltown city officials and the Central Iowa Water Association (CIWA), the building is just sitting out on 18th Avenue - without water.
Mason is the pastor at Liberty Baptist Church, whose main location is at 9 N. Fifth Ave. He said the city has already issued a building permit and each department that needed to sign off on that has.
T-R PHOTO BY DAVID ALEXANDER
Randy Mason, pastor at Liberty Baptist Church, points to where he had to install a driveway because of a lack of infrastructure out on 18th Avenue Friday afternoon. The church has built the first of three buildings in the area to house its youth center, but hit a roadblock earlier this year when Central Iowa Water Association barred Marshalltown Water Work from providing the center water as initially planned.
City officials told him Marshalltown Water Works would be providing his water, he said. They were wrong.
"Because they had water in the area within the city limits, we felt they should be our customer," Steve Sincox, general manager of Marshalltown Water Works, said.
The area where Liberty Baptist's youth center sits is in CIWA's service area, according to a letter it sent to the city in March. It has exclusive rights to provide the youth center with potable water.
This revelation, to put it mildly, irritated Mason. Because CIWA has the rights to the water and Marshalltown Water Works will not provide water for fire suppression if he is not a customer, Mason and his congregation are between a rock and a hard place.
"All of this should have been worked out in advance ... they made an error, they need to make it right," Mason said. "We jumped through all those hoops and got that building permit."
The problem, city officials told him, is that the water main provided by CIWA does not meet fire code. Also, there is no fire hydrant close enough to the building to allow firefighters access to it should a fire break out.
Marshalltown Fire Chief Steve Edwards said fire code mandates that a hydrant be capable of producing 1,500 gallons of water an hour continuously for two hours. The CIWA lines simply aren't big enough to provide that kind of flow.
If CIWA can provide documentation proving it can meet the requirement, Edwards said, there is no problem from the MFD's standpoint.
"As long as we get adequate flow, we are ready to go," he said.
If CIWA cannot provide the necessary water output, Sincox said, they are asking Mason to submit a letter to CIWA asking them to relinquish him as a customer.
But Mason feels he shouldn't have to do that. If the city wants his business, he said, they should solve the problem. It doesn't matter to him who provides the youth center's water.
"This is the quagmire we are caught in," Mason said. "We are being held hostage and being used as a pawn."
Marshalltown annexed the rural land on 18th Avenue in 1996. And although it is within the city limits, and as a result bound by city code, the infrastructure there is hardly developed.
Because of that lack of infrastructure, Liberty Baptist Church has absorbed the cost of the project's entirety. Mason said they even had to pay to have a driveway dug.
Money isn't the issue. Mason said the church will comply with whatever the codes stipulate. The church is even willing to pay to bore the necessary line to install a fire hydrant.
He said he doesn't understand why he can't get his potable water from CIWA and be billed by the city separately for water used to suppress any potential fire.
Liberty Baptist Church has already spent $500,000 on the first phase of a construction project that aims to also build a gym and indoor soccer field in adjacent buildings.
"The value is worth zero if we can't connect to that water line," Mason said.
The installation of a hydrant would be beneficial to the city, he said, because it would allow future developers to hook up to it. Mason said a deferment or some other arrangement could be made, but the city doesn't want that.
Sincox said there is not a way to bill Liberty Baptist for fire suppression without it being a water works customer.
"There is no provisions in our rules to allow protection," Sincox said. "In order to provide that class of service ... we would have to modify our rules and regulations to allow that type of customer."
But, it's not as if MFD is unable to provide fire suppression to rural Marshalltown. Firefighters just have to drain the water into a pump tank to avoid collapsing the substantially smaller pipes, Edwards said.
Mason said the city is trying to gain control to the water rights in that area and he is caught in the middle.
CIWA will not allow Liberty Baptist to use water just for fire suppression purposes Randy Wetmore, city administrator, said.
However, Jim LaPlant, CEO and engineer with CIWA, said if fire protection is required for Liberty Baptist to be issued an occupancy permit, his company does not object to that.
What CIWA doesn't want to do is relinquish a customer to which the federal government ensures it has a right. With such a small service area, every customer counts, LePlant said.
According to the letter CIWA sent the city, CIWA only averages three customers per pipeline.
"It's ironic. They are going to be getting Marshalltown water either way," LePlant said, referring to the fact that CIWA purchases its water from Marshalltown Water Works.
Mason and city officials met July 11, but still have not come to a solution acceptable to all parties involved.