On July 31, Goodrich Corp. sued Rialto and other parties in San Bernardino Superior Court to try to force the city to require a local businessman to clean up perchlorate contamination.
Next week, Emhart Industries - a defunct company associated with Black & Decker - Goodrich and Rialto-based Pyro Spectaculars are expected to ask a Los Angeles Superior Court to stay state hearings on the perchlorate contamination.
The legal efforts are the latest action the three companies have taken to thwart the state regulatory bodies trying to get the perchlorate cleaned up.
Perchlorate, a substance used to produce rocket fuel, fireworks and other explosives, has been flowing from Rialto's north end through the city, and possibly into Colton and toward Fontana. Perchlorate can interfere with the thyroid gland, which is important in the development of unborn babies.
"What this is really about is Goodrich's attempt to deflect attention from its own responsibility for contaminating the groundwater," Cris Carrigan, one of Rialto's lawyers, said about the suit against the city.
The State Water Resources Control Board is scheduled to hold hearings on the contamination - which was discovered in 1997 - later this month. The hearings have been delayed numerous times because of procedural objections raised by the three parties.
In the lawsuit against Rialto, Goodrich claims Rialto is obligated to order Ken Thompson, who owns land where perchlorate has been discovered, to clean up the contamination. It also says Rialto needs to enforce its own 1987 declaration requiring Thompson to clean up the area known as the McLaughlin Pit.
Goodrich has also claimed that the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, whose staff will be arguing against the three companies at the hearings, has not lived up to its responsibility to close the pit properly.
Patrick Palmer, a Goodrich spokesman, said the parties responsible for the contamination should clean it up and that if the proper procedures had been followed in 1987, the perchlorate would have been discovered years earlier. By not pursuing Thompson at the state hearings, Rialto and the Santa Ana board staff are failing to go after one of the responsible parties, Goodrich claims.
"We're very disappointed in this matter, where only select responsible parties and very key facts are being ignored," Palmer said.
Carrigan and Kurt Berchtold, assistant executive officer of the Santa Ana water board, both said their agencies have done nothing wrong and that Thompson might still be pursued in the future.
Thompson hasn't been a focus of the cleanup investigations thus far because he did not discharge perchlorate into the ground; he merely bought property from a party that did, said Scott Sommer, Rialto's lead attorney in the perchlorate matters. So far, the state regulatory agencies have focused on pursuing the parties suspected of actually discharging perchlorate. Any perchlorate he did spread by operating on the site was spread unknowingly because the perchlorate hadn't even been discovered there yet, Sommer said.
Carrigan said it's not even clear what Goodrich wants the city to do and that the suit is just another attempt to outspend state agencies and Rialto by using clever legal tactics.
At last count, Rialto has spent about $15 million on its efforts to investigate the perchlorate and take legal action. As that number has risen, dissatisfaction with the city's legal strategy has mounted.
The three parties being pursued in the state hearings have been criticized for using a number of aggressive legal strategies. One of the environmental groups involved in the hearings, the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, dropped out after being overwhelmed by how difficult the process had become.
In a letter to one of Goodrich's lawyers, Jeffrey Dintzer, the executive officer of the Santa Ana board, Gerard Thibeault, said the parties' legal efforts cost the state $954,000 and 9,430 hours in staff and attorney time in the 2006-07 fiscal year, and the costs are still growing.
At a Rialto City Council meeting on Wednesday, a woman - who identified herself as Donna Worley and claimed to be a concerned citizen - caused quite a stir when she went before the council to complain about the same matters contained in the Goodrich lawsuit. Earlier, she had provided The Sun with information about Thompson, in a letter calling the situation "just another case of the city helping the rich." At the meeting, she mentioned a potential recall of members of the council, prompting a vigorous response from the dais, especially from Councilman Ed Scott, who noted she lives in Burbank and accused her of working for Goodrich.
In the other matter regarding potential court action in Los Angeles, on Tuesday, James Meeder, an attorney for Emhart, wrote a letter on behalf of all three companies saying that if the hearing officer of the state proceedings did not disqualify the state board and the regional board from the process, he would go to court to ask for a stay in the hearings.
The companies claim the Santa Ana board's staff and the state board have taken part in improper communications or are biased against them because the state board handed out grants to local agencies to treat perchlorate. They have also claimed bias on the grounds that the Santa Ana board's staff erred in its handling of the closing of the McLaughlin Pit and is itself therefore partially responsible. Palmer also said the state board has no right to try the matter at this point.
Hearing officer Tam Doduc ruled Saturday against the companies.
"I think their disqualification argument lacks merit, and it would be sad if the proceedings are stayed," Carrigan said.
Berchtold said allegations of bias or that the Santa Ana board tried to cover up its own actions are "just not the case."
If all else fails, a federal trial on the contamination is tentatively scheduled for October 2008.
BS Ranch PerspectiveAfter reading this it seems that The City of Rialto, and The City Council is being Treated as I was treated when it came to my workers compensation case, It took me 10 years to settle my case, and it was only settled because my lawyer made an offer to settle out of court, well Rialto accepted that offer and that was the only reason that my case was well handled. I even Died On Duty, in a Motorcycle Accident. But that didn't matter.
This case will not be settled and all of the J&K Utility Tax money is going to the lawyer, Owen's so that he can take this case to Court. I don't think that this will go very far in October 88 either...