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Fayetteville church files federal lawsuit against city, utility company

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St. Anthony Catholic Church in Fayetteville

FAYETTEVILLE, Tenn. — St. Anthony Catholic Church in Fayetteville filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court last month against the City of Fayetteville and Fayetteville Public Utilities, citing breach of contract and discrimination.

Church leaders say that weak water pressure from a nearby hydrant is causing a hazard not only for the church but also for its neighbors.

“It’s scary, and it’s frustrating,” explained Rick Musacchio, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville‘s Director of Communication. The church falls into that diocese, and serves 230 households. Musacchio said that would equate to nearly 700 people attending the church.

“A lack of fire protection based on the lack of available water to fight fires really is seriously diminishing the value of the property,” he further explained.

Fire Protection Concerns

Musacchio said there is a real safety concern. Just last June, a fire down the street injured three people. At the time, Fayetteville’s City Administrator confirmed to WHNT News 19 that low water pressure made it hard to fight the flames.

“We couldn’t crank up the full volume that normally we would have used because of the lack of water pressure,” Scott Collins told us on June 26, 2017.

The lawsuit alleges the hydrant that services the Valley View Apartments where that happened also services the church.

It also cited discrimination, alleging that because of these pressure problems the church is being treated on “less than equal terms with nonreligious assemblies.”

“The City of Fayetteville’s zoning decisions place a substantial burden on St. Anthony in that St. Anthony’s current facility used for its religious practices is no longer adequately protected in the case of a fire,” the lawsuit reads. “The zoning decisions treat St. Anthony unfavorably as opposed to new commercial, tax-paying entities, in making determinations as to what new facilities, improvements, and construction to approve despite the known lack of water flow/pressure,” it continued.

The church said that it is paying for water service, but its inability to have enough water flow or pressure to be able to receive firefighting service is a breach of contract.

Allegations of Negligence

The church believes the pressure problem is a known fire hazard that the City hasn’t prioritized.

The lawsuit claims that the city has known about the issue for years and allowed new private and public growth in the city, despite that knowledge.

“St. Anthony is harmed and is suffering damages in that its current facility is no longer adequately protected in case of a fire. Fayetteville and FPU were and are negligent in failing to rectify this dangerous and defective condition of which they had knowledge for many years,” it reads.

The lawsuit claims that the decrease in water pressure and supply are due to growth in Fayetteville, the sale of water by FPU to Lincoln County, and FPU’s spending on other things. It accuses FPU of not using its money to “adequately upgrade its infrastructure so as to ensure adequate flow/pressure for all of its existing customers.”

“They have added onto the demands of that water line. They have done nothing over a period of time to maintain or upgrade those water connections to support that growth,” said Musacchio.

Attempts to Expand

Another issue outlined in the lawsuit is St. Anthony Catholic Church’s attempts to expand, which are halted by the water problems.

It claims that the water pressure problems are limiting its ability to construct religious structures and engage in religious practices.

The lawsuit details that the church began submitting plans to the City of Fayetteville to build a second facility in early 2016. This would become the Parish Life Center, and Musacchio said it was a project the parish looked forward to and had collected money to build.  The suit claims that the water flow/pressure reading on the hydrant servicing the church established a “sufficient” flow rate in 2014 but not again in 2016 when it was read again at a much lower number.

On April 12, 2017, the lawsuit alleges that the City of Fayetteville denied the church’s request for a building permit to construct its new Parish Life Center because of inadequate fire protection from its hydrant.

It cites a disagreement between the church, the city, and FPU about who is responsible for the water supply issue.

The lawsuit explains the church will incur some costs because of this problem. It would need to install a $400,000 water tank to make more water available for the church if needed. It also spent money on architectural and engineering fees that it no longer can use, because there is no permit for it to build the facility they had planned.

Resolution Sought

Leaders say they have been trying to work with the City for a while.

“Instead, those two entities really have just left the church and the community in that area in a really rough spot,” said Musacchio.

The church seeks $400,000 in damages along with architectural and other fees. They are requesting a trial by jury.

Defendants’ Response

WHNT News 19 contacted Scott Collins, Fayetteville City Administrator, for comment.

He emailed in reply, “Due to the pending litigation, we cannot comment except through our attorneys. Unfortunately, an attorney from the Tennessee Municipal League has not been assigned at this time. Once the attorney is assigned, I will be happy to provide him/her your contact information.”

We also called Fayetteville Public Utilities’ CEO/General Manager, Britt Dye. He said that he could not comment because of pending litigation. However, we asked him about the water system in general. He said FPU has been rehabbing the water and wastewater system for nearly 11 years and it is going well.

The defendants’ attorneys have yet to file any motions or response to the church’s complaint in court.