Santa Paula Expects Relief From Fines
Santa Paula officials said Thursday they were confident they could reach a settlement with state regulators over potential fines of up to $5 million for hundreds of discharge violations at the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Last-minute settlement negotiations, which preceded an all-day meeting of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board in Simi Valley, prompted the state agency to postpone a decision on renewing an expired discharge permit for the city’s aging plant.
Both sides expect to hold additional meetings to work out a compromise that would lead to cleaner discharges flowing into the Santa Clara River without bankrupting the town of nearly 30,000 residents.
“This is a good day for Santa Paula. We had this ominous specter of fines over our heads and I was prepared to come here and plead for relief,” Mayor John Procter told the water quality board after formally requesting the postponement. “I want to thank the board and the staff for bending over backward to find a solution.”
Procter, Vice Mayor Gabino Aguirre and the city manager met privately Wednesday afternoon with water quality board Chairwoman Susan Cloke and Dennis Dickerson, the board’s executive officer, to seek a compromise.
Dickerson said it could be months before a final agreement was reached, but said the state agency and the city had established a framework to begin settlement discussions.
Michael Lauffer, attorney for the board, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that a settlement could be reached with Santa Paula over its 64-year-old treatment plant.
As it stands, the city will continue to be assessed a mandatory minimum fine of $3,000 every time it violates discharge standards for its wastewater. Lauffer suggested the board would work with the city to find a way to either reduce the fines or, as the city requests, credit the amount of any fine toward the $63-million cost of a new treatment plant it wants to open jointly with Fillmore by the spring of 2007.
Meanwhile, at the same board meeting Thursday, Fillmore had its wastewater discharge permit renewed under less stringent standards that acknowledge the limitations of the city’s antiquated treatment plant, which uses the same trickle filter method as Santa Paula’s plant.
“We now have a standard that matches the standards of our 1955 plant. It’s more equitable,” said Bert J. Rapp, city engineer.
City Manager Roy Payne said Fillmore could begin negotiating with water officials over the $81,000 in fines it had racked up during the six years it operated with an expired permit.