Manteca expects to OK pipeline settlement
San Joaquin Record -
By Abbie Dutcher
MANTECA -- The Manteca City Council is expected Monday to approve a settlement agreement with environmental groups that filed a lawsuit in 2000 questioning the adequacy of environmental studies on a $150 million south county water pipeline project.
As part of the deal, the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, Tracy and Escalon collectively would pay $850,000 to fund water-quality programs to benefit the Stanislaus River ecosystem, the lower San Joaquin River ecosystem or the San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem, according to a final draft of the agreement.
In addition, Lathrop, Manteca and Tracy would enact a "farmland conversion fee" of $2,000 per acre for every acre of prime farmland that in the future is converted to development, according to the draft agreement.
Most of the parties to the lawsuit have agreed to the terms of the deal, said Steve Stroud, general manager of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District, the lead agency on the water project.
The irrigation district's board of directors approved the deal a couple of months ago but were awaiting word that other agencies also had approved it, Stroud said. The only partners that haven't signed off yet on the deal are the cities of Manteca and Tracy, he said.
"It's not a done deal until all entities have approved it," he said Thursday.
If one agency were to reject it or still had questions, it potentially could delay or derail the deal, he said.
"But we think the settlement is a good one," Stroud said. "I think everyone gave up something, and no one got everything they wanted. But we came up with something that everyone can live with."
Lathrop City Attorney Susan Burns Cochran would not comment on the proposed settlement, saying there has been "no reportable action" on the part of the city or the City Council.
Calls to city officials and city attorneys in Manteca and Tracy were not returned Thursday.
Bill Jennings, executive director of Deltakeeper, one of the environmental groups that brought the lawsuit, confirmed the agreement's existence Thursday. But he said he was reluctant to comment on it until its approval is finalized.
"All I can say at this point is all the parties worked awfully hard and in good faith to resolve a contentious and complex issue," Jennings said.
The irrigation district and the cities of Manteca, Tracy, Lathrop and Escalon teamed up to build a 40-mile pipeline to ferry treated drinking water from the Stanislaus River to current and future residents in those communities.
Construction already is under way on a water-treatment plant at Woodward Reservoir as part of the massive South County Surface Water Project.
Three environmental groups -- Deltakeeper, the Mother Lode chapter of the Sierra Club and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance -- sued the irrigation district and the cities in 2000, charging that environmental studies didn't adequately address the project's potential for inducing urban growth in the south county.
On July 26, 2001, a San Joaquin County Superior Court judge rejected the argument. But the environmental groups appealed the decision to the Third District Court of Appeal in October 2001.
The proposed settlement calls for the irrigation district to pay $116,000 in fees to attorneys who represented the environmental groups. In exchange, the environmentalists agree to drop their appeal.
Under the draft agreement the Manteca City Council will review Monday, the $850,000 settlement designated for water-quality programs would be paid collectively by the four cities over three years. Half the funding would go to the University of California to be used by the UC Davis Toxic Aquatics Lab for water-quality monitoring on the San Joaquin River and its tributaries or the southern Delta, according to the deal.
The other half of the money would go to the Oakland-based Rose Foundation, with at least 85 percent of the funds to be distributed to improve water quality in the San Joaquin River and Delta.
In addition, Manteca, Lathrop and Tracy would adopt a farmland conversion fee of $2,000 per acre on developments at the time a building permit is issued, unless the project is exempt because of the existence of a development agreement or other specified conditions.
A number of developments are specifically mentioned in the draft agreement as being exempt from the fee, including the Tracy Gateway and Tracy Hills projects in Tracy, the River Islands at Lathrop, Presidio and Mossdale Landing projects in Lathrop; and roughly 20 residential projects, totaling 1,855 homes and 603 apartments, in Manteca.
According to the settlement, half of the $2,000 farmland-conversion fees will go to the San Joaquin Agricultural Land Trust to purchase farmland or open space for preservation. An additional $250 would be earmarked to preserve agricultural land from development, and the land could not be used to dispose of treated wastewater. The other $750 could be used to buy farmland, however, that could be used to dispose of discharged wastewater.#