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Group Considers Suing Over Well Permits

POSTED January 14, 2014 2:40 p.m.
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The attorney for the organization Protecting Our Water & Environmental Resources (POWER), an unincorporated association, sent a demand letter and notice of intent to sue to Stanislaus County and 16 entities recently granted 59 permits by the county to construct wells allowing extraction of groundwater.

Among those 16 entities are farmers based in Oakdale, Waterford, Turlock, Modesto, and Hughson, as well as farmers with operations in Stanislaus County who are based in Los Banos, Ballico, Duarte, and Fresno.

POWER asserts that the County is issuing permits without first doing the environmental review required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The fundamental purposes of CEQA are to inform government decision makers and the public about potential significant environmental impacts of proposed activities and to identify ways that environmental damage can be avoided or minimized. The group says that the purposes are frustrated when Stanislaus County issues permits for high volume groundwater extraction without first doing environmental review.

San Francisco attorney Thomas Lippe, who has prior experience in similar cases, represents POWER. Lippe’s letter asks that the County immediately agree to do CEQA environmental review of all new and pending well permit applications. It also asks that the permits recently issued to the 16 permit holders named in the letter be revoked and that the permit holders agree to environmental review before re-approval. If the requests are not agreed to, POWER intends to initiate a lawsuit or lawsuits on or before Jan. 22.

However, some of those wells are already in use.

According to minutes from a Dec. 29, 2013 meeting at the Oakdale Golf and Country Club of the Eastside Groundwater Coalition, wherein its name was then changed to the Stanislaus Water Coalition (SWC), POWER’s representative, Jerry Cadagan of Sonora, was in attendance and presented about this legal process. According to the minutes, Cadagan reported about Lippe’s experience and willingness to file the lawsuit and that his attorney fees would be recovered if he prevails in the suit and that the plaintiff would not be at risk for attorney fees or court costs. In the minutes it also said that the suit could be filed jointly with other interested organizations and that the SWC would not be a party to the suit. Further in the minutes it stated that when asked for a show of hands to see if the SWC group supported the legal process proposed, the support was unanimous with one abstention.

The SWC’s Board of Directors was selected at a Jan. 6, 2014 meeting, also in Oakdale. According to the minutes from that meeting, the officers are as follows: President – Neil Hudson, Vice President – Sharon Getchel, Secretary – John Booker, Treasurer – Gail Altieri, and Directors at Large are Mike Tozzi, Bill Smith, Joyce Reed, Emerson Johnson, and Rita Clark. Also according to the minutes, Tozzi volunteered to prepare bylaws for the board, Kathy Smith volunteered to serve as Historian for the coalition, and Frank Clark volunteered to chair a subcommittee to focus on compiling information for a Town Hall meeting in March in Oakdale, as well as to file the appropriate form with the state to establish a Political Action Committee (PAC) should the coalition intend to raise or spend over $1,000.

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