By Jim Johnson, Monterey Herald
POSTED: 12/15/14, 7:19 PM PST | UPDATED: 1 DAY AGO
Marina >> California American Water crews are proceeding with work on a desalination test slant well despite now facing two lawsuits in Monterey County Superior Court aimed at halting the project.
On Friday, the Ag Land Trust filed suit against Cal Am and the state Coastal Commission, challenging the commission’s approval of the test well project and seeking a court order barring Cal Am from doing any work on the project. The challenge mirrors one filed recently by the Marina Coast Water District, which was moved to Monterey County last week after a Sacramento County judge ruled in favor of Cal Am’s bid to litigate the case in local courts.
Despite the suits and even with recent storms, Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Stedman said Monday that crews are already drilling monitoring wells on the Cemex sand mining plant north of Marina, and company officials expect a test well rig to arrive by mid-week, with drilling on the test well possible by the end of the week.
Stedman said Cal Am began work on the monitoring wells on Wednesday after receiving a coastal development permit for the test well project.
A Cal Am official had reported earlier this month that the test well work would need to start by Monday this week to be finished by the start of the snowy plover mating season in the spring, or the project would likely be delayed about a year, another setback for the company’s oft-delayed desal project. Stedman said Monday company officials believe they are still on track to complete the project construction on time.
“We do expect we can beat the spring deadline,” Stedman said.
Both suits claim the Coastal Commission erred in giving Cal Am the go-ahead on the test well project, which is slated to pump water from slant wells stretching beneath the ocean floor, continuously and for up to two years, in an attempt to gauge the impact on the Salinas Valley groundwater basin. Marina Coast and Ag Land Trust argue Cal Am has no right to the water being pumped from an already overdrafted basin, where both organizations claim water rights.
A court hearing has tentatively been set for Wednesday on the Marina Coast case, though officials there are still considering whether to continue pursuing the matter locally or seek to move it elsewhere.
Both sides have seen accusations of delay tactics, with Marina Coast allegedly pursuing a test well slow-down as leverage, and Cal Am accused of maneuvering to avoid a court ruling until the project is well under way.
The lawsuits place Marina Coast and the Ag Land Trust in the unusual position of being on the same side of a desal legal issue after the pair squared off in court over the failed regional desal project, which included a three-way partnership between Cal Am, Marina Coast and the county.
The Ag Land Trust won a court ruling finding that Marina Coast’s environmental impact report on the project was flawed and would need to be re-done, dealing a blow to the project that eventually fell apart in the wake of former county water board member Steve Collins’ criminal conflict of interest.
Jim Johnson can be reached at 726-4348.