By Jason Pasick, Daily Bulletin Staff Writer
Leaders from Rialto and San Bernardino County will get together Tuesday to once again discuss the city's lawsuit against the county, the U.S. Department of Defense and a number of corporations.
The 2004 lawsuit claims the county is responsible for contributing to efforts to clean up perchlorate flowing from land the county owns but did not contaminate itself.
Perchlorate is a chemical used in the production of rocket fuel and fireworks, materials that were produced in the area in the '50s and '60s. The chemical can limit thyroid function and is thought to be potentially dangerous to developing fetuses and children.
County officials say the county, which is under cleanup orders from the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, has spent about $7 million investigating and cleaning water contaminated with perchlorate. The total cost of cleaning the contamination has been estimated at $200 million.
City and county officials failed to resolve their differences last year, with the county rejecting a deal that called for it to pay $6 million to Rialto in exchange for being dropped from the suit. A portion of that money would have been repaid to the county if the city won its lawsuit against the remaining defendants, the Department of Defense and some 40 other companies.
A June 8 letter from 5th District Supervisor Josie Gonzales to Rialto Mayor Grace Vargas said: "What has become clear is that we need to work toward a resolution with all the parties of the lawsuit, not just between the City and the County."
Gonzales' district includes Rialto.
Bob Page, Gonzales' chief of staff, said Friday that the county's insurance company will not compensate the county for a settlement with the city. In part, Page said, that is because the scientific investigations have shown that the county is not responsible for more of the contamination than it has already claimed responsibility.
It is also not clear what has changed in the past year that would convince the two sides to reach a settlement.
Rialto City Councilman Ed Scott, who, along with Councilman and Mayor Pro Tempore Joe Sampson, will be negotiating on the city's behalf, said he is not optimistic the two parties will reach an agreement. "I'm hoping they'll sit down with us in good faith," Scott said.
Gonzales and Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Postmus will be the elected representatives representing the county.
Page said the county is not likely to budge much from the position it took last year.
"I don't know if there's anything additional we're willing to do," he said.
When asked about the county's contention that it should not settle because of restrictions from its insurance company, Scott said, "That's not really Rialto's problem."
City officials have also charged the county with working with the other defendants against the city. "They have assumed the role of the lead party in that lawsuit," Scott said.
Page said it is only natural for the county to be in communication with the other defendants and for the county's attorneys to talk with the other defendants' attorneys.
"We are a defendant in a lawsuit," he said.
Both sides have accused the other of wasting money by not working together to clean up the perchlorate.
Both sides also say they have always recognized the importance of continuing discussions, but Scott said the city initiated this meeting.
I feel that the side that is bringing unnecessary Law Suits against the other for the cost of cleaning out this Infectious chemical is wasting time and money!! I believe that is the City of Rialto who is doing these Law Suits! Unless I am mistaken. The excuses are promises broken!!
I say this, this is a chemical that can be cleaned from the water, and if it is one that can be cleaned then lets clean it. Lets not waist the people who use this water every day's Health by having to fight it out in court. OR cleaning it out by day and fighting it out in court by night. It is not right!! It is not right!!