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Archive for Wednesday, January 21, 2004

State to keep Arkansas River dispute in court

Kansas asking for $25 million more in settlement from Colorado

January 21, 2004

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— Atty. Gen. Phill Kline said Tuesday he would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to add $25 million to what Colorado is supposed to pay Kansas in their long-running dispute over the Arkansas River.

Kline said he also would dispute other parts of a report from a special master appointed by the court to review the states' claims.

Kline wants a "river master" appointed to make sure Colorado continues to comply with the 1949 compact between the states over the Arkansas. He also wants annual targets for how much water must flow across the Colorado border, rather than a 10-year average.

The two states' conflict over the river might never end, Kline told the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Kansas sued in 1984, claiming Colorado violated the compact by withholding too much water from the Arkansas as it flowed into southwest Kansas.

The Supreme Court sided with Kansas in 1995, but the two states still are arguing over monetary damages and future enforcement of the compact.

Special Master Arthur Littleworth, in a December 2002 report, set Colorado's debt to Kansas for damages and interest at $28.9 million rather than the $52.8 million sought by Kansas.

With interest still accruing, Kline's office estimates the master's ruling would cost Colorado $30 million, while Kansas is arguing for $55 million.

The U.S. Supreme Court received Littleworth's report last month and gave the states 45 days to file exceptions to it. Kline will meet the Thursday deadline and said he expects the Supreme Court to hear arguments in October.

Meanwhile, Kline said that because of the importance of water and the complexity of the legal issues surrounding it, "You're not going to get to the end of this."

"In the context of resolving all the issues with Colorado, I don't know if that's ever going to happen," Kline said. "There are always going to be issues."

Colorado Atty. Gen. Ken Salazar issued a statement saying he was optimistic the dispute over damages could be settled within a few years.

"The water issues on the Arkansas River between Colorado and Kansas are complex and based on the law of the Arkansas River, as it has evolved over more than 125 years," Salazar said. "This means, necessarily, that there will always be legal issues to address between Kansas and Colorado."

Kansas Sen. Steve Morris, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said Colorado officials had proven to be "very adept at stalling."

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court said Colorado owed Kansas $14 million in damages but did not calculate interest. Colorado wants the interest calculated from 1984, while Kansas wants interest charges to start with compact violations in 1969, Kline said.

A 1996 Kansas law provides that money from Colorado must be spent on the litigation and on water conservation projects in the Arkansas River basin. The attorney general's office has spent about $17 million.

In other action:

  • The state had "unrealistic expectations" when it began its comprehensive transportation plan, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said in touting a $465 million bond issue.
  • Two Republican legislators discussed a proposal that they say could make Kansas a leader in biosciences and add a new dimension to the state's economy.
  • Two senators said they have drafted a bill to allow a quick appeal of a district judge's ruling on school finance to the Kansas Supreme Court.
  • Kline promised to draft a proposal to keep sales of discount cigarettes from cutting into the state's revenues from a legal settlement with major tobacco companies.

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