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Santa Clarita to fight fine over chloride levels

Posted: December 20, 2012 7:34 p.m.
Updated: December 20, 2012 7:34 p.m.

The City of Santa Clarita is fighting a $280,250 water fine over chloride levels handed to the local sanitation district by state water quality assessors last month.

On Thursday afternoon, the city council voted unanimously to send a letter to the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board contesting a fine recently leveled against the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District.

Last month, the water board notified local sanitation officials they had violated conditions of their permit to discharge chloride into the Santa Clara River.

Specifically, the board fined the district for having failed to submit paperwork on how it plans to reduce chloride discharged into the Santa Clara River.

The complaint seeks a total penalty of $280,250 for failure to complete “Wastewater Facilities Plans and Programmatic Environmental Impact Reports” by the required due date in 2011.

The local district was expected to produce paperwork on its plan to reduce chloride by May 2011. It did not.
It’s been in violation of its discharge permits every day since May 4, 2011.

In its complaint, board officials remind district officials that they could have issued a fine of $11.44 million for being in violation of its permits for 572 days.

In response, city leaders called a meeting to hear a report from district officials about the chloride problem and the recent fine.

“It’s time to fight really, really, hard in the future,” said Santa Clarita City Councilman TimBen Boydston.

Sanitation District spokesman Phil Friess provided a detailed chronology of chloride contamination of the Santa Clara River and actions taken to address the issue.

Friess - as well as lawyers representing the sanitation district - provided city council members with a list of options as to how they might want to respond to the fine.

In closing his presentation, Friess told city council: “If we don’t comply, we face ruinous fines.”

Options for responding to the water fine - called an administrative civil liability complaint - are similar to options explained on the back of a parking or speeding ticket.

Options include:
- paying the fine.
- exposing “a fundamental error” in the fine.
- reaching a negotiated settlement with the water board.
- fighting the fine by having the matter heard in a formal proceeding with board prosecutors.

City council members decided Thursday to fight, beginning a letter contesting their decision.

“There’s clearly not a do-nothing option,” Robert Newman, the city’s Public Works Director said at the outset of the meeting.

Boydston asked Friess if the district has ever sued the water board.

“We’ve threatened suits twice, never sued,” Friess said.

When a lawyer representing the district explained the council’s legal options, another member of the district’s legal team interjected saying the council should continue any legal discussion behind closed doors.

“This whole chloride issue is the single largest scam ever perpetrated on us,” Boydston said, referring to low chloride levels set for Santa Clarita according to the interests of farmers downstream of the Santa Clara River in Ventura County.

“This is a boondoggle and we need help to get out it,” he said. “Let’s write this letter and demand we get an administrative hearing.”

Santa Clarita City Councilman Frank Ferry suggested containing as much of the river’s water as legally permitted and sending Ventura County only what’s required to legally maintain natural habitat.

“If we do that, you’ll see people coming to the table to talk to us who aren’t at the table now,” he said.

Each of the council members called for the letter to include requests for scientific data on the detrimental affects of chloride on salt-sensitive crops such as strawberries and avocados so that a “realistic” chloride level could be set.


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