Judge orders city to pay lawyer fees

Final ruling handed down in wastewater lawsuit
By: Gloria Beverage,Colfax Record Editor
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By Gloria Beverage Colfax Record Editor U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Edmund F. Brennan has ordered the city of Colfax to pay more than $433,000 to the attorneys representing Colfax residents Allen and Nancy Edwards. Although the attorneys asked for $459,870, the judge agreed the costs – except for a portion of a consultant fee – were legitimate and necessary for the work performed. “He gave them (the attorneys) virtually everything (they asked for),” noted City Manager Bruce Kranz. After years of unsuccessful efforts to get the city to voluntarily make repairs to the outdated plant, Allen and Nancy Edwards partnered with the Oakland-based Environmental Law Foundation in 2007 to demand the city stop discharging polluted water into Smuther’s Ravine, the creek that flows through the Edwards property and into the North Fork of the American River. Both sides reached a settlement agreement in late 2008. “Almost as soon as the original settlement agreement went into effect, the city chose to violate provisions they had freely signed,” Edwards said. “We wanted the city to comply with the agreement quickly and efficiently, but city reps wanted to deny, delay and fight at every turn, even though they know that fighting compliance would lead to high legal bills.” In February 2009, Edwards and Environmental Law Foundation filed contempt charges against the city. In November 2010, the court issued a new order, including new schedules for treatment plant improvements as well as a deadline for lining Pond 3, the main sewage storage pond. At that time, Judge Brennan ruled that nearly $2 million in penalties, except for a $10, 000 fine payable to the Edwards for a polluted water spill on their property, would be waived if the city complies with the court order. However, the judge delayed his decision on the attorney and expert fees as well as costs incurred by the Edwards’ attorneys, finally issuing his ruling last month. “The city didn’t need to have any of those costs,” Edwards said. “If they had obeyed the first order, they wouldn’t have had those costs. I would have liked to see that money go to fixing the problems (at the plant).” The lawsuit, Kranz counters, solves no problems, except to pay attorney fees. “Our case is atypical of what is happening throughout the state,” he continued. “We have tried as hard as we can. If we had an extra million dollars to spend to fix the plant, we would have been so much better off.” Faced with a court order to make four equal annual payments, including interest on the unpaid balance, Kranz intends on asking the attorneys to agree to a longer payment plan at a lower interest rate. “They want 10 percent interest if they carry it over,” said Kranz. “We’re talking about a general fund of $1.1 million and then have to pay almost one-half million (dollars). We’ve already cut staff from 10 down to 6. How much more can we cut?” Kranz pointed out that the city has been working hard to resolve problems at the upgraded treatment plant over the past couple of years. “There are still problems with excess water infiltration into our sewer system,” he continued. “We have 100-year-old pipes that have to be lined or replaced. We continue to work on the Infiltration & Inflow system and we have to line Pond 3.” Grant applications, which could cover the costs of the remaining upgrades, are being considered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kranz acknowledged.. “I want our farm to be free of the pollution from the sewer plant,” Edwards concluded. “The city wants to avoid fines and high legal costs. We all get what we want when the city government acts responsibly and obeys the court orders.”