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Water board levies four more fines

Environment: City, two businesses and marine institute are latest hit by L.A. panel

Posted: September 8, 2010 6:43 p.m.
Updated: September 9, 2010 4:30 a.m.

A nonprofit marine institute devoted to understanding and minimizing human impact on oceans is among the latest agencies to be fined by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board for polluting water.

The Southern California Marine Institute, which holds a well-respected strategic alliance with 10 regional universities, was fined $9,000 last week by the same board expected to rule on possible chloride-related fines against Santa Clarita Valley.

The institute was fined for taking polluted water out of the ocean at its facility in Long Beach — among the more polluted sections of the Pacific Coast — cleaning it with filters, then discharging it back into the ocean.

“I think they were heavy-handed in issuing this state-mandated fine,” Dr. Larry Allen, the institute’s director, said Wednesday. “We’re taking water out, cleaning it up, running it through our filters and tanks. What re-enters (the ocean) is much cleaner water than what was taken in.”

On a few occasions, however, the discharged sea water didn’t meet state standards, and the institute was fined $3,000 in each case, Allen said.

Since the institute relies on state funding, it ended up handing back $9,000 that it had received from the state.

“We had to lay two of our people off because of this,” Allen said.

Latest regional fines
The Regional Water Quality Control Board handed out fines Thursday totaling at least $378,000.

Its enforcement panel initially recommended the board issue fines called “mandatory minimum penalties” totaling $669,000 against the institute, two private companies operating in Los Angeles County — including a firm that filed for bankruptcy protection last year — and the city of Redondo Beach.

Arguments presented to the board by most of the water-discharging violators helped shave more than a quarter of million dollars in possible fines from the originally assessed penalties.

“If the discharger can show us this violation did not occur — for example, if they can show that the lab messed up in its testing — then the fine will come down,” said enforcement-panel member Jeffery Ogata, a lawyer representing the regional board who signs his name to fines.

In explaining the decision to fine the marine institute, Ogata said water discharged back into Long Beach harbor contained “dissolved oxygen,” which means the water contained insufficient amounts of oxygen fish need to live.

“They (the institute) were trying to make the case that fishermen were illegally dumping fish parts back into the water,” Ogata said, adding the institute was unable to prove its claim.

The latest fines were all issued for violating the Clean Water Act of 1972 by polluting waterways in Los Angeles County.

“All four of the recommendations were upheld,” said Mary Anne Lutz, chairwoman of the regional water board.
Apartment-owners fined

The two companies hit with fines were owners of multidwelling buildings: Mammoth Apartments LLC based in Sherman Oaks and 750 Garland LLC in downtown Los Angeles.

The water board enforcement panel recommended issuing reduced fines in all cases but one.

The corporation named 750 Garland LLC violated a water-discharge requirement, the board decided, and deserved the full brunt of the initial fine issued against it, totaling $252,000.

The company, which owns a six-story former Holiday Inn in Los Angeles two blocks from the Good Samaritan Hospital, last year reportedly filed for Chapter 11 restructuring of its debt.

Mammoth Apartments, in Sherman Oaks near Woodman Avenue and Ventura Boulevard, was initially considered for a penalty of $255,000, but after a board hearing in May, successfully saw the fine reduced to $66,000.

Similarly, the Southern California Marine Institute in Long Beach saw a $12,000 fine considered by the enforcement panel whittled down to $9,000.

The city of Redondo Beach received the biggest break when fines initially assessed at $150,000 were reduced to $51,000 following the same May hearing. The fines were levied for polluting Seaside Lagoon.

“When a proceeding takes place and when a discharger is assessed with a fine, we enter into a negotiating process for those fines,” Lutz explained.

Chloride in local river
Santa Clara River water quality has become a hotly contested local subject in the last couple of months as salty chloride levels continue to spur public debate over proposed sewer rate hikes needed to pay for a costly salt-ridding plant.

As the river runs through the Santa Clarita Valley, treated wastewater is added before it flows into Ventura County, where it’s used to irrigate crops.

Among the crops are chloride-sensitive strawberries and avocados. Farmers expect to receive salt-free river water according to standards set by the 1972 Clean Water Act and enforced by the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Current plans call for the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District to build a $210 million reverse-osmosis plant by 2015 in order to comply with the act and avoid being hit with fines.

However, at a Sanitation District board meeting in July, members delayed approving a rate hike aimed at taking the first steps toward the costly plant amid an outcry against those hikes.


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