Woodland and Port of Woodland Prepare to Settle Litigation
LONGVIEW – The Port of Woodland is preparing to settle its lawsuit against the Town of Woodland over a change in the way the town handles utility billing.
The port filed a lawsuit in June in an attempt to prevent the city from implementing a policy that would charge building owners for utilities instead of tenants. Superior Court Judge Gary Bashor issued a preliminary injunction in November to allow the port’s trial to proceed.
The settlement was on the agenda for the Woodland City Council meeting on December 20. After a scheduled executive session, council may authorize Mayor Will Finn to sign the by-law.
In the proposed settlement, the city agreed to revert to direct utility billing for 10 port tenants. Direct invoicing will apply as long as the companies occupy these “specific premises” at the port. The Port of Woodland has agreed to cancel all public records requests it had made to the city in the past four months.
With the agreement, neither the city nor the port admits any liability, wrongdoing or violation of the law.
Woodland Harbor Manager Jennifer Wray-Keene and Harbor Counsel declined to comment on Monday.
Woodland City Council passed the resolution changing the utility billing system in April, in part as a way to hold property owners more accountable for their tenants’ unpaid utilities. Department of Public Works Director Tracy Coleman said the city had $ 187,000 in overdue bills and needed to collect those balances. No port company had an unpaid account when the resolution was put in place.
The port argued that the resolution was unconstitutional if it applied to the port, as coverage of utility payments for a rental business could be considered a public entity providing an illegal loan. The city said that even if the bill goes through the port first, businesses would still have to pay for their own utilities or risk eviction.
Bashor’s comments in previous court hearings have largely focused on Woodland’s ability to implement changes in its utility practices. In hearings in August and September, Bashor pushed the city attorney to explain how the new billing system tied to the explicit and implicit contracts that were already in place with the port.
“The ordinance retroactively modifies the contracts. That’s what I’m trying to figure out on the basis of – where does the city get the power to reverse this, ”Bashor said in a hearing in August.
The preliminary injunction was largely a moot point even when it was issued. Woodland has verbally agreed to maintain direct billing to port tenants and to maintain the status quo before the court ruling makes the ruling binding.
Neither the preliminary injunction nor the current settlement agreement is intended to examine the legal merits of pursuing the port. The regulation also has no effect on how billing works for residential and commercial tenants in Woodland.