Administrative failures result in $1.1 million fine
October 4, 2012
After about six hours of deliberations, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board determined that because a 2010 raw sewage spill in Oceano was due to careless and improper maintenance the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District will be fined $1.1 million.
Water board members agreed with officials from the plant who argued that the spill amount should be lowered to 674,400 gallons. However, the water board then increased the harm factor because of the plant’s administration’s failures to provide adequate protection, operate according to proper standards and repair faulty equipment.
After the increase in culpability and the lower spill amount were calculated, the fine was lowered by about $279,000.
Prosecutors said several times during the hearing that a lawsuit filed on behalf of the rate payers could result in The Wallace Group being responsible for the fines as opposed to the rate payers.
In their complaint, prosecutors accuse district administrator John Wallace of not properly maintaining or operating the plant and failing to properly report incidents to regulators. Wallace is the owner and president of the Wallace Group, a private engineering consulting firm located in San Luis Obispo that receives from $50,000 to $80,000 a month for plant administration and engineering services.
At last nights South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District board meeting, members voted 2-1 to appeal the regional water board’s decision to the state water board with Matt Guerrero dissenting.
The districts cost for defending itself could run more than the fine amount with just this month’s payment leger showing legal and witness consultant costs of more than $137,000.