Joseph Mayor and city attorney

Joseph City Council member Teresa Sajonia, right, looks on at the city’s attorney Wyatt Baum (left).

In small communities people often find themselves wearing more than one hat, so to speak. Sometimes those hats conflict.

The city of Joseph recently found itself in a sticky land-use dispute. Scott Reinhardt and Patricia Bufford of Joseph have made several claims against the city of Joseph centered on the disputed right to use a water meter and pipeline and the city’s failure to remove such at Reinhardt and Bufford’s request.

Bufford, a member of the Joseph City Council, brought the suit as a resident of Joseph and not in the capacity as a city council member, and has recused herself from deliberations on the matter as an interested party.

The initial complaint, which was filed in November of 2018 in the Circuit Court for Wallowa County, claims that Joseph has no legal right to possess the land as it is by using and maintaining the water meter and pipeline. The complaint asserts that there are no recorded liens or easements allowing this conduct to continue.

Reinhardt and Bufford, through their attorney Benjamin Boyd of the Hostetter Law Group, further claim that they officially requested that the city remove the meter and pipeline back in November of 2017.

The city, represented by Robert E. Franz Jr. of Springfield, responded by claiming that the disputed meter and pipeline, along with the city’s access to them, have been in use for over 20 years.

As such, the attorney claims that the city does in fact have rights to continue using the meter under Oregon’s prescriptive easement laws. Under very specific circumstances, Oregon law may recognize such an easement right through its adverse possession laws, even without being officially recorded.

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