San Diego Fights Kinder Morgan Over Water

     SAN DIEGO (CN) — Leaks from a petroleum storage plant have contaminated the land and befouled drinking water under San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium for decades, the city claims in lawsuit against Kinder Morgan.
     The Tuesday lawsuit in Superior Court accuses Houston-based Kinder Morgan Energy Partners and affiliates of dumping “hundreds of thousands of gallons of dangerous poisons and harmful chemicals into drinking water which otherwise would be available to serve the growing needs of San Diegans.”
     Years ago, the city used the aquifer beneath the stadium site for drinking water, and it wants to do so again. It calls the defendants “notorious polluters,” who have been fined more than $5 million for three oil spills from their Northern California pipelines, and who have delayed cleanup in San Diego and “thwarted … the city’s plans to bring this source of drinking water back into production.”
     A state regulator ordered Kinder Morgan to clean up the polluted water by 2013, but Kinder Morgan says it can’t finish the job until 2034, the city says.
     The pollution comes from the company’s 66-acre Mission Valley Terminal, next door to Qualcomm Stadium. Kinder Morgan acquired the terminal from the previous owner in 1998.
     The city says the leak dates back to at least 1986, and by 1992 the plume of poisonous gasoline, diesel and jet fuel had seeped under the stadium and into the aquifer.
     “It has been estimated that at one time as much as 300,000 gallons of petroleum products were located beneath the [city] property,” the lawsuit states.
     The city seeks damages and punitive damages for trespass and nuisance, based on the rental value of the contaminated land and the costs of cleanup.
     The lawsuit is the latest in a complex legal tangle of more than two decades.
     A state regulatory agency ordered Kinder Morgan to clean up the leak in 1992. An arbitrator issued a similar ruling in a 2003, in ending a lawsuit the company brought against previous owners of the petroleum facility.
     The city sued Kinder Morgan in 2007, and the company removed it to Federal Court.
     Kinder Morgan said that it and the state regulatory agency, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, worked out a plan by which Kinder Morgan would treat the contaminated water and dump it into a nearby creek.
     In response to that, San Diego sued the company and the board because, in the words of the new lawsuit, the plan allowed Kinder Morgan to “partially and incompletely” clean up the pollution and then “throw away” up to 238,000 gallons of water a day.
     “That water alone was enough to supply 6,000 San Diegans,” the city said.
     A judge in Riverside rejected that case in late 2014.
     The 2007 federal lawsuit is still alive. Although a judge threw it out in 2013, the Ninth Circuit Court revived a limited version of it a year ago. The city was not satisfied with that ruling and expects to file a new appeal after trial in the case, which is set to start June 7.
     The city filed its new lawsuit “as a prophylactic measure in the event that ruling is not reversed on appeal,” according to the complaint.
     A spokesman for Kinder Morgan said in an email that San Diego “has suffered no harm whatsoever as a result of the former contamination” and now “is attempting to evade federal court rulings.”
     Kinder Morgan spent $75 million and completed all the remediation required by the regulatory board, while the city has spent nothing “other than the wasted legal fees and costs,” the company spokesman said.
     Those expenses are considerable. From 2007 to the beginning of 2015, the city spent at least $6 million on attorneys, experts and court costs, according to news reports.
     “This has turned into a budgetary issue for them,” Kinder Morgan spokesman Dave Conover said.
     The lead city attorney on the case declined to discuss it. But one of the city’s outside attorneys, Rene Tatro with Tatro, Tekosky and Sadwick, said Kinder Morgan “should just pay the damages.”

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