It’s a problem that has torn a small town apart in so many ways, pitting neighbor against neighbor in the big paradise sewer wars.
No one has been more at the forefront, or at least was, than Janice Barber, Paradise resident and former member of the Paradise Sewer Board.
She has remained largely silent in the months since she was removed from the board by other board members who say her own words and actions meant she tendered her resignation.
And, after months of civic wrangling, current sewer board members voted to accept his twice overruled resignation, abruptly ending his term on the Paradise board.
Barber claims she was trying to leave the board on her own, tired of in-fighting and small-town politics that were changing the city, perhaps forever.
“I tried to quit several times, but the (Sanders County) commissioners kept calling me, telling me I should stay on the board and keep working,” she said. . “They (the opponents of the sewerage project) managed to stall the process for so long that nobody did anything. We had received grant money when it started and we could have done the thing now”.
In the process, Barber, who said she was anti-sewer at first, engaged in several heated debates with other board members.
“I was anti-sewer,” she said. “I wanted to see what was going on with all this and went to a board meeting. I could see they (the naysayers) were the problem. In the process, I was beaten all around. I tried to leave the board and called the commissioners to let them know that was what I intended to do and they convinced me to stay”.
During several meetings towards the end of her tenure at PSB, she engaged in well-attended town hall meetings that often disintegrated into angry and tense exchanges between her and council member Terry Caldwell.
“I called him an A-hole misogynist and Dewey (board member Dewey Arnold) a drunk because at that point I had just had him with their bs,” Barber said. “The developers were looking to find a council that would vote 5-0 against the sewer project and they got it. How can you have a council where everyone is against what the council was created to do? »
Recent claims by opponents of the sewer project that $50,000 is missing and is due and payable to the Paradise Water District are false and misleading, she said.
At the start of the PSB, the Water District “lent” the PSB a disputed total of $50,000, which the Water Board says it wants to repay to the Water District.
That total is actually closer to $15,000, Barber said. And she notes that the financial transactions were the work of a Water District Board and the PSB which were separate entities but each comprised the same set of board members.
“At first,” she says, “the Sewer Board borrowed and repaid $10,000 from the Water District. The money was for basic start-up expenses. Later in the process, the Water District pledged $25,000 for a feasibility study of the project. The remainder of the $50,000 was owed on a loan to the Sewer Board in the amount of $15,000, to be repaid when the sewer was operational and collecting funds for the service”.
That amount, she said, remains in limbo because the project never started and therefore no funds to repay the $15,000 were ever raised.
Several of the parties involved, Barber said, have records and other documents detailing those financial activities.
Barber says much of the blame for the project’s at least temporary demise rests on the shoulders of two avowed enemies of sewers, Katy French and Lee Ann Overman, who have both emerged as unofficial leaders of the sewer-free movement. .
“A lot of it is about building a convenience store,” she said. “Katy and her husband have been trying for years to build an RV park just outside of town. This would have been in competition with a convenience store that Bridger Bischoff wanted to include in his development.
Bischoff has long wanted to build a multi-unit housing project on land he owns on several acres along the northern edge of Paradise, which is an unincorporated town. Opponents of the project have long argued that Bischoff would get a “free” sewer for his development project as originally described.
Not so, say pro-sewers.
“Katy is a very smart person who can and does talk around everyone,” Barber said.
Barber also said her latest confrontation with Caldwell involved a meeting she helped set up between Bischoff and others connected to the project, angered Caldwell, who accused the small group of holding a secret meeting without consent.
In the final, mostly contentious, days that followed, the two sides fought back and forth, with meetings often ending in stalemates where nothing else was accomplished. At one point, sheriff’s deputies were called in to fire Barber and former PSB member Don Stamm after a meeting adjourned and Barber and Stamm remained inside the building.
This, according to French and Overman, was against council rules in that they had an unauthorized meeting.
This meeting ended peacefully when Barber agreed to leave after telling deputies that no PSB business was being discussed and that she had rented the meeting site with her own money.
“These people are not telling the truth about the funds involved,” Barber alleged. “This project will eventually be done and when it is, everyone will have to pay more than we could have already done it for. They talked and talked all the time and got what they wanted”.
It could well be a costly decision, she said.