Of the Baker City Herald

The Baker City Council rejected the Smith Ditch Company's offer to settle a dispute over the $38,385 the city spent to clean mud from streets and yards after a section of ditch failed in August.

The ditch owners offered the city $15,000.

Councilors discussed the offer Tuesday evening during an executive session, which was closed to the public.

Mayor Peter Ellingson declined to talk about the matter after Tuesday's council meeting.

John Bootsma, one of the ditch company's three directors, said this morning that he considers the $15,000 andquot;a pretty good gestureandquot; from him and from the approximately 20 other landowners who irrigate with water from the ditch.

andquot;I think that's about all they can afford,andquot; Bootsma said. andquot;I don't know what (the City Council) expects from the irrigators. They didn't break the ditch.andquot;

No one knows who did break it, although an anonymous badger is the chief suspect.

Bootsma said the ditch owners, who pay $10 to $20 per year for each acre they irrigate, already have scrimped to pay to repair the damaged section.

They also lost money because their final alfalfa crops withered from the lack of water. The ditch failed about two weeks before the end of the irrigation season.

andquot;It's taken all my operating budget,andquot; said Bootsma, who is the majority owner, with about 60 percent of the approximately 3,000 acres the ditch irrigates.

andquot;It's devastating.andquot;

The city will submit a damage claim to its insurance company, City/County Insurance Services, City Manager Jerry Gillham said.

But Gillham concedes that the claim probably is a longshot.

He said the city's policy covers assets such as buildings and cars that are damaged by floods, but it's not clear whether the company would pay for scraping mud from streets and yards.

The residents whose properties were soiled by mud and water said their homeowners' policies did not cover the damages.

The ditch company did not have liability insurance; nor does Oregon law require irrigation companies to carry such a policy.

In the offer the City Council submitted to the ditch company in November, the city asked that the company, in addition to paying the $38,385 in four annual installments, also buy liability insurance.

The City Council asked the ditch company to make the first $9,600 payment before water starts flowing in the ditch in April.

Councilors said last fall that they would consider filing a lawsuit to try to prevent the owners from using the ditch.