Benton County is in troubled legal water with the Columbia Irrigation District because a road project in Finley trespassed on railroad property.
The mixup, which climaxed with heated emails between the water agency's attorney and county prosecutor's office early this summer, culminated with county engineer Malcolm Bowie's resignation last month.
Bowie, who was hired three years ago, quit the $99,000-a-year job by submitting a letter of resignation, which has not been made public.
Bowie also had been serving as interim county engineer for Franklin County, where the former engineer and public works director, Tim Fife, was fired last in March.
The problem began a year ago when Benton County officials started working on extending the Highway 397-Finley intertie to Piert Road in eastern Benton County near the Columbia River.
Keith Martin, manager of the Columbia Irrigation District, said about 100 yards of the CID canal at the northern end of Piert Road was in the way of the project.
County officials decided to offer to move the canal a few feet by digging a new ditch and lining it with concrete, which was a major improvement over what previously had been an open ditch dug in the natural earth.
The county would get what it needed to extend Piert Road, and CID would get a new canal.
With irrigation season approaching, construction began before the county and district signed a formal agreement.
What no one realized at that time was the county would be relocating CID's new canal onto property owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, Martin said.
Terry Miller, a Kennewick attorney representing the irrigation district, complained in March to deputy prosecutor Reid Hay that the county might have to pay damages if the project was not finished before the start of irrigation season later that month.
Miller sent more emails in May, calling the county's project, which did not yet have a formal agreement, a trespass on CID property, noting that "the realigned canal is on property that still appears to belong to the railroad."
The Herald obtained copies of the emails of Terry Miller, one of which advised Andy Miller, county prosecutor, that he didn't like engineer Bowie "intentionally" working around him to discuss the issue directly with the CID board.
Andy Miller had suggested Bowie and CID board member Neil Martin work on resolving the issue of the misplaced canal, but Terry Miller protested Bowie's involvement in a May 3 email to the prosecutor.
"(His) dealing with the CID board without my knowledge and presence created a lot of this mess," the attorney wrote.
Prosecutor Miller responded by suggesting they should "start anew with a cooperative attitude."
The issue remains unresolved with Bowie's resignation Aug. 8.
Benton County is recruiting applicants for the county's engineer's job, but has hired Roy Cross, former city engineer for Kennewick as an interim engineer.
Guy Walters, interim public works director for Franklin County, said they have been lucky during the past month for not needing to have an engineer on the job.
Franklin County had been looking for an engineer, and has offered the job to someone, he said.
Steve Becken, Benton County public works manager, said he has been trying to arrange a meeting with a Union Pacific Railroad representative to see how the mix-up can be straightened out.