Rialto pollution talks go nowhere
NO DEAL: At issue is how much San Bernardino County owes the city for the cleanup of six wells.
10:00 PM PDT on Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Settlement talks over payment for perchlorate cleanup broke down on Tuesday between Rialto and San Bernardino County.
The settlement meeting was the first since last August between county supervisors and Rialto City Council members, and each side blamed the other for its acrimonious end.
County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Postmus and Supervisor Josie Gonzales left the morning conference with Rialto councilmen Ed Scott and Joe Sampson. Scott had asked a representative of state Rep. Nell Soto, D-Pomona, to leave, and then the two sides began to argue about the case.
At issue is whether and how much the county owes Rialto to compensate for perchlorate contamination in groundwater from the Mid-Valley Landfill in north Rialto.
City officials say they had a tentative agreement with the county for $6 million, of which $3.5 million would be repaid.
County officials say there was never a deal.
"I think things have pretty well broken down, is what it looks like to me. Unfortunately, the settlement demand on the county will increase in the coming months and years," said Robert Owen, Rialto's city attorney. "Ultimately the county is going to have to pay for their fair share."
The city and its utility sued the county and 41 other agencies and companies in January 2004 over perchlorate contamination in groundwater. Perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel and fireworks, is believed to interfere with thyroid function and brain development. Fetuses and newborns are most at risk.
The chemical has contaminated six of Rialto's wells.
Soto, whose district includes Rialto, is chairwoman of a state Senate committee on perchlorate. Her spokesman, David Miller, said a staffer contacted the county and asked about sitting in on the Tuesday meeting.
Scott said the city told county officials it didn't want the meeting to be confidential. But Scott said it wasn't proper for a third party to be in the room during the talks.
"It was a misunderstanding. I think the bottom line is, we share their commitment to getting the perchlorate out of the drinking water," Miller said.
Bob Page, Gonzales' chief of staff, said the two sides argued over providing information and whether each had returned the other's calls.
City officials say that in a closed-door meeting with Postmus and Gonzales last August, they reached a tentative agreement for the county to pay a $6 million settlement.
Over the course of a year, the two sides said, talks turned to the county paying $2.5 million, plus a $3.5 million advance on future legal costs that would be repaid from money recovered from other defendants.
But Gonzales said there were contingencies because the county didn't have the money.
The $2.5 million payment was contingent upon approval from the county's insurer, Page said. Gonzales said the $3.5 million advance was contingent on the sale of county land in Ontario.
The county hoped to get $52 million to $54 million but only got $47 million, she said, not enough to fund the advance.
"I told them that when they have their priorities straight and are serious on moving forward they could call me and I would reschedule," Gonzales said. "Ed Scott said he would call my office."
Reach Massiel Ladrón de Guevara at 909-806-3054 or mdeguevara@PE.com
Reach Naomi Kresge at 909-806-3060 or nkresge@PE.com