Status Of On Farm Conservation Program
By STEVE KNELL
Oakdale Irrigation District
Contrary to the articles that have been appearing in local papers, the OID’s On-Farm Conservation Program is alive and well, just on hold from a preliminary injunction issued by the court. That action was filed by the Oakdale Groundwater Alliance made up of Louis Brichetto, a large landowner of foothill properties outside OID’s irrigation service boundaries and with some small holdings in OID and Robert Frobose, a rice grower with land in OID but who resides in Modesto.
The On-Farm Program, while on hold for OID, did not stop the owners of 59 parcels from performing as outlined in the contracts they executed in good faith with OID prior to the court’s issuance of the preliminary injunction. To that very point, Mr. Mount, a program participant came forward at the last OID Board meeting and stated he had done his part under the contract and now he wants OID to do its part and pay. He has filed a damage claim under the Tort Claims Act against OID.
As background, on March 15, 2016 the Board approved the One Year Pilot On-Farm Water Conservation Program. After OID’s Board approved the Program, 59 contracts were entered into and executed by Program participants obligating OID to perform as contracted for.
On April 1, 2016, OGA, Louis Brichetto and Robert Frobose filed a suit against the OID challenging the On-Farm Water Conservation Program. On May 27, 2016 the Superior Court of Stanislaus County issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting OID from continuing with the Program until a court trial is concluded on the sufficiency of the environmental documents OID prepared. That trial may not take place until next year sometime. OID has complied with the court’s order and has not performed any actions under the 59 contracts.
What is striking at this point though, the On-Farm Conservation Program was supposed to be just a one year pilot program for this past irrigation season. Most of the participant farmers have performed the conservation projects they contracted to install for which OID agreed to pay. The lawsuit did not stop the conservation projects as intended and yet the suit continues by the plaintiffs.
The Tort Claims Act allows parties to present a claim to a public entity for money or damages as a prerequisite to bringing a lawsuit against it. The primary function of the Tort Claims Act is to apprise the governmental body of the possibility of imminent legal action so that it may investigate and evaluate the claim and, where appropriate, avoid litigation by settling meritorious claims. As outlined by the OID Board, the OID intends to do just that.
To date, OID has received five claims requesting compensation for damages they sustained resulting from non-payment on executed contracts under the Program. The General Manager and General Counsel have been directed to settle all pending and future damage claims in good faith resulting from the On-Farm Conservation Program. If Program participants choose not to file a claim and OID prevails at trial, participants will be paid through the On-Farm Program.
Steve Knell serves as the General Manager for Oakdale Irrigation District. He may be reached at 209-847-0341.