For city officials, it's a simple feasibility study to determine whether Sandy can economically provide drinking water to 1,800 of its residents living within the White City Water District.
But to the folks who run the White City Water District, it's the oft-dreaded shot across the bow that may lead to Water Wars III.Sandy City staffers are busy drafting the ground rules for the water study, which is expected to go out for bid by mid-July.
That may seem innocuous enough, but the study is the first step required by a new state law that permits residents of municipalities to withdraw from county special improvement districts.
Before that withdrawal can take place, however, a municipality has to be able to provide equivalent services and the affected residents also must vote to withdraw.
The feasibility study will lay the groundwork for an eventual withdrawal, however, by evaluating Sandy and White City resources and projecting financial impacts of a pullout on all parties.
Sandy spokesman Rick Davis said Tuesday the city hasn't received any withdrawal petitions to date but is proceeding on the expectation some are forthcoming.
Sandy officials maintain they can provide residents living within the White City district better service at a lower cost.
"The study is a prerequisite to separation," Davis said. "It's kind of like a divorce. We're figuring out what's his and what's hers."
White City trustees, who have been feuding with Sandy City on water issues since the district was formed four years ago, believe city residents aren't rushing to file petitions because they're happy with the cost and quality of their water service.
But they also fear the city is quietly orchestrating a petition drive among the Sandy residents who make up 45 percent of the district's 4,000 water users.
"It's all a con," said Paul Ashton, the water district's attorney. "I`ve never believed this is a grass-roots citizens' issue. We think the city is trying to get someone to put the petition together for them.
"The law doesn't require a feasibility study until a petition is filed," he noted. "Sandy seems to be putting the cart before the horse."
So far, Sandy officials have indicated they only want their citizens to have the right to choose which entity provides them with water.
White City trustees don't buy that mellow sales pitch, pointing to ongoing skirmishes with Sandy City, in and out of court, that seem to indicate the city wants to press the withdrawal issue.
Given the years of ongoing legal battles and verbal disputes between White City and Sandy on various water issues, it seems apparent a heated battle may be looming over water customers.
"We don't know exactly what the city is doing, but we think they have been approached by someone who wants them to prepare petitions," said White City district manager Jeff Budge.
While there have been rumors some kind of withdrawal advisory committee is being formed, he said, there haven't been any reports within the district of petitioners collecting signatures.
"But we feel it's just a matter of time before they have something out there," Budge added.
Ashton said he thinks the advisory committee is a gambit by some city officials to create a pseudo-entity willing to "push a withdrawal petition the city is preparing internally."
"I think they they're moving ahead with a feasibility study at this point because some of the City Council members are tired of dumping money into this issue without knowing what the costs will be," he added. "And the price tag for withdrawal is going to be astronomical."