The cost for the technical services of a single engineering consulting firm assisting with the legal defense against lawsuits and administrative action brought against San Bernardino County over the spread of perchlorate contamination in the county’s central valley has risen another $375,000 to $3,305,892.
The engineering consulting done in conjunction with the case represents but a fraction of the total cost to taxpayers accruing out of the irresponsible action of former county officials in managing the Rialto landfill in such a way that it worsened perchlorate contamination in the ground and groundwater beneath that landfill.
This week, at the recommendation of county counsel Jean-Rene Basle, the board of supervisors approved an extension of the existing contract with Geo-Logic Associates from October 4, 2016 through October 3, 2017 in an amount not to exceed $375,000. That contract comes on top of the nearly $2.931 million the county has already paid Geo-Logic for the provision of technical support services in connection with perchlorate and other contamination issues in the Rialto-Colton Basin.
County counsel is the county’s top in-house attorney. The office of county counsel is the stable of lawyers the county employs.
At the root of the matter is perchlorate contamination that has seeped into the region’s water table and is continuing to spread.
In north Rialto, Pyro Spectaculars, Ken Thompson Inc., Chung Ming Wong, BF Goodrich and Emhart Industries had operations that were ongoing in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. All of those operations utilized perchlorate in their manufacturing processes. Near those operations Broco Inc. maintained a hazardous-waste disposal operation which was active from the mid-1960s until the late 1980s.
The county purchased the Broco property in 1994 and used it in the expansion of the Mid-Valley Sanitary Landfill.
In the late 1990s, a plume of contaminants containing perchlorate was found to be migrating through the local water table. Perchlorate is a product used in the manufacture of both fireworks and ordnance. In very minute quantities perchlorate can wreak havoc on the thyroid gland.
It has been established that the five aforementioned corporate entities – Pyro Spectaculars, Ken Thompson Inc., Chung Ming Wong, BF Goodrich, and Emhart Industries – were responsible for the accumulation and release of the perchlorate.
Water agency officials, state officials and federal officials also believe the county of San Bernardino engaged in activity that exacerbated the perchlorate problem.
Officials with the Rialto-based West Valley Water District and their lawyers have alleged that San Bernardino County razed and buried structures at the Broco facility to make way for the landfill expansion, action those officials maintain was not only illegal but worsened the contamination of the groundwater below Rialto.
According to attorney Barry Groveman, who represents the West Valley Water District, it appears the county simply knocked the hazardous waste facility down and spread the debris around before burying it. Groveman said the county was in violation of state hazardous waste handling regulations and the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
Burying hazardous waste and storing it without a permit is illegal.
The Environmental Protection Agency has designated the north Rialto area as one of its Superfund sites so that the parties responsible for the contamination can be forced to assist in the remediation effort and so-called federal Superfund can be applied toward that end.
In 2004, Rialto filed an action in the U.S. District Court, known as City of Rialto v. United States Department of Defense et al. relating to the perchlorate contamination, alleging defense contractors were in part responsible for the situation. In early 2005, Colton filed a similar action in U.S. District Court, known as City of Colton v. American Promotional Events, Inc. West, et al. Rialto and Colton brought their respective actions against a number of defendants, including the county and Emhart, seeking response costs and injunctive relief to, among other things, ensure that perchlorate and another contaminant, TCE, in the Basin would be cleaned up. In June 2010, the District Court consolidated the United States action with actions which had been refiled by Rialto and Colton. Rialto dropped the portion its lawsuit against BF Goodrich after the company agreed to undertake a remediation effort. BF Goodrich did pay a total of $4 million – $1 million each to the cities of Fontana, Rialto and Colton as well as to the West Valley Water District. That money was used to treat specific wells that were producing perchlorate-laden water but did not redress the underlying problems in the aquifer. An EPA-designed program of remediation, consisting of contaminated water being pumped out of the ground to then be treated and distributed to water districts, is underway. It will likely take two decades or more for the perchlorate levels to be reduced to acceptable limits.
In May 2009, then-county counsel Ruth Stringer convinced the county board of supervisors to retain the law firm of Gallagher & Gallagher at an original cost of $710,000. The legal services Gallagher & Gallagher was to provide pertained to allegations against the county relating to perchlorate contamination in connection with particular matters that fall outside of the defense work covered by the county’s insurance. Gallagher & Gallagher currently represents the county in connection with the federal and state court litigation and federal and state agencies’ investigations of the perchlorate groundwater contamination in the Rialto-Colton Basin. Records show that as of last year the county had paid Gallagher & Gallagher a total of $2,325,000 and that another law firm, Price Postel & Parma has been paid $4 million by the county for its work with regard to perchlorate contamination litigation.
Two years ago, the county entered into a four-party implementation agreement with Emhart Industries, Inc.; the city of Rialto and the Rialto Utility Authority, collectively; and the city of Colton.
That agreement calls for the construction of a combined water capture and treatment system to be operated by the city of Rialto and its utility authority that will reduce the perchlorate in the water table to the state standard of 0.004 mg per liter or less. The system is to consist of two groundwater extraction wells; a combined treatment plant; conveyance piping connecting the extraction wells to the combined treatment plant; distribution piping and any necessary valves connecting the combined treatment plant to Rialto’s municipal water supply system; distribution piping and infrastructure necessary for the delivery of water to Colton’s municipal water supply system as well as, if needed and reasonably necessary, distribution piping and infrastructure necessary for the delivery of water to a water purveyor other than Colton, which would most likely be the West Valley Water District; up to seven monitoring wells; and at least two and perhaps more piezometers required by the California State Water Resources Control Board Division of Drinking Water for the extraction well and the city of Rialto water well closest to the contamination site.
This week, in presenting to the board of supervisors his request that the county extend its contract with Geo-Logic Associates, Basle revealed that the legal challenges the county is facing over the perchlorate contamination has grown even more complicated.
According to Basle, “On October 6, 2015 the board of supervisors approved Contract #15-733 with Geo-Logic Associates to provide technical assistance to county counsel and outside
counsel, The Gallagher Law Group, in connection with groundwater contamination issues in the
Rialto-Colton Basin, where the County’s Mid-Valley Sanitary Landfill is located. These issues are not yet resolved and this new contract will allow those services to continue for an additional year. Also, the scope of work is slightly revised to increase technical assistance regarding a new lawsuit, ICSOP v. County of San Bernardino, that concerns certain aspects of contamination in the basin.”
“Geo-Logic Associates provides important and necessary consulting services including required groundwater monitoring and reporting related to perchlorate and volatile organic compounds impacts to groundwater in the vicinity of the Mid-Valley Sanitary Landfill, and provides review and oversight of the perchlorate and volatile organic compounds groundwater treatment system at city of Rialto Well No. 3,” Basle said. “These services assist the county in maintaining compliance with legal requirements, including the state of California Regional Water Quality Control Board Cleanup and Abatement Order R8-2004-0072, which requires investigation into the extent of perchlorate and volatile organic compound impacts and the cleanup and abatement of the effects of the discharge of perchlorate and volatile organic compounds from or near the Mid-Valley Sanitary Landfill. Geo-Logic Associates has provided highly critical and successful specialized consultant litigation and technical support services to county counsel and outside counsel related to hydrogeologic analyses and identification of the contamination and treatment issues in the Rialto-Colton Basin.”
Basle said, “The specialized services of a qualified hydrogeologic consultant are necessary as these services cannot be provided by county staff. Geo-Logic Associates is qualified to assist county counsel and outside counsel due to their expertise and familiarity with the contamination in the Rialto-Colton Basin and with the county’s remediation plan and treatment system. The recommended contract will allow Geo-Logic Associates to continue providing these services for the ensuing year.”