Groundwater pollution legal fight finally ends

Source: Lodi News-Sentinel (CA), February 12, 2011
By: Maggie Creamer

The city of Lodi ended a long legal battle over groundwater contamination earlier this month.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board unanimously approved $6.3 million in settlements from a federal lawsuit over groundwater pollution on Feb. 4.

These settlements are with insurance companies of local businesses, and resolve the question of liability for the contamination, city officials said.

“I’m pleased to see we’re no longer paying to fight about the problem, we’re paying to clean it up,” Lodi City Attorney Steve Schwabauer said in a news release. “I’m glad we’ve reached the end of a 22-year odyssey to deal with the root of the contamination.”

With the approval, the city will have access to the money for cleanup and monitoring of the industrial solvent. The city will make sure the chemicals do not reach Lodi’s drinking water wells, install carbon filtration on any wells that are affected, and install a treatment system to remove the contamination.

The city recently installed a system of extraction wells behind Guild Cleaners to suck the chemicals — used in the 1970s and 1980s as industrial solvents and for dry-cleaning — out of the soil and groundwater.

Since 2004, a soil vapor extraction well has been installed in the alley between Church, Pine, Oak and Pleasant streets, and six tons of PCE/TCE has been removed.

The city will install other wells to remove PCE/TCE that has migrated from the central source in the alley.

“The $6.3 million in additional revenue from the settlement is certainly something welcome to the utility, because we have upward of 40 years of cleanup and monitoring activities we are facing,” Public Works’ Wally Sandelin said.

The final settlements come after a more than decade-long legal battle. The city originally tried an aggressive legal strategy to sue local businesses, including the News-Sentinel, and their insurance companies for the cost of the cleanup.

Because of legal setbacks and soaring attorney fees, the city eventually abandoned the strategy.

Then the settlement process began, a complicated affair because more than 100 parties had been dragged into the case.

“It’s nice to be done and on our way to start our cleanup facilities,” Sandelin said.

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