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North Coast cities join forces to fight suits

By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

Several North Coast cities have banded together in an attempt to make changes to the Clean Water Act in the wake of lawsuits filed by an environmental watchdog group.

A resolution to seek changes to the act was unanimously endorsed by the Redwood Empire Division of the League of California Cities at their meeting in Arcata last Saturday.

What happened was the group agreed to go forward with a resolution (to address) the Clean Water Act of 1972, said Crescent City City Councilmember Mickey Youngblood, who attended the meeting on behalf of Crescent City.

This wont help with lawsuits we have now, but it might help against lawsuits in the future, he said.

The cities claim the federal Clean Water Act enables citizens to file lawsuits against municipalities which have violations in their wastewater treatment facilities, and that in California, unreasonable requirements by the state Water Quality Control Board make violations a near certainty.

The resolution was proposed at the meeting by Fortunas city manager, Dale Neiman, as that city was the first of several North Coast cities to be contacted by the environmental watchdog group, River Watch, which is based in Santa Rosa.

River Watch filed a lawsuit against Fortuna last year for violations that reportedly occurred in that citys wastewater collection system and treatment facility.

Since that time, the group has filed a lawsuit against Crescent City for similar violations, and has notified the Redwood Division cities of Eureka, Fort Bragg and Willits of its intent to file suits.

Other cities in the Redwood Division are Arcata, Clearlake, Cloverdale, Ferndale, Lakeport, Trinidad and Ukiah.

We recognize any changes we might make wont benefit us, Neiman said yesterday referring to the settlement Fortuna agreed to with River Watch.

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The reason we are doing this is to help other cities and community service districts so they wont go through what we did.

The resolution asks the League of California Cities to actively pursue state and federal legislative remedies for what it cites are frivolous citizen lawsuits for personal financial gain and to ensure the majority of fines or fees paid for violations are returned to the respective communities to fix the problems.

When asked about the section referring to personal financial gain, Neiman said the portion speaks for itself.

In Fortunas settlement with River Watch, about $100,000 of its costs went to River Watchs attorney, $75,000 to its own attorney, and $60,000 will be paid to the Clean Water Institute to monitor the citys sewer facility, Neiman said.

Our position is: We spent over $5 million in eight years toward fixing the very problems that River Watch raised, Neiman said. So, we needed to pay them $100,000 in attorneys fees to tell us what we already know?

Eurekas community services director, David McGinty, confirmed his city received a notice from River Watch on Feb. 5 of its intent to file suit. Eureka has been in an ongoing dialogue with the group since then.

Its rather common now with these citizen lawsuits, which is sad in a way, McGinty said, because its forcing communities to spend their money on defense instead of fixing the problems.

Mayor C. Ray Smith will be representing Crescent City at the general assembly meeting of the League of California Cities in Sacramento on Sept. 15.

 


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