(CN) – The government has “substantially complied” with a court order to clean up its sewer treatment plants at Camp Pendleton, a federal judge in San Diego ruled. U.S. District Judge Irma Gonzalez dismissed the case and barred environmental groups from filing another lawsuit over the same claims.
Nearly seven years ago, defense officials agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by San Diego Baykeeper and other environmental groups, alleging Clean Water Act violations at the Marine Corps base camp near San Diego.
The government has since spent more than $300 million improving the base’s five wastewater treatment plants, resulting in a state-of-the-art facility.
With the exception of one month, the government’s compliance rate over the past year has been between 95 percent and almost 100 percent.
Defense officials argued that the case should be dismissed, because the government has upheld its requirements. They argued that any violations in the past year were “isolated or sporadic exceedances,” which were allowed under the terms of the settlement, also called the “consent decree.”
When the environmental groups refused to support the government’s motion, the government asked Judge Gonzalez to dismiss the case. She agreed that the government has proven its compliance.
“[A] compliance rate of 95% to above 99% for 11 of the past 12 months easily qualifies as ‘substantial compliance,'” she wrote.
The environmental groups never challenged the government’s facts, she noted, but simply opposed the motion because they planned to file another Clean Water Act lawsuit over sanitary sewer overflows and ongoing monitoring and reporting violations.
“In other words,” Gonzalez wrote, “plaintiffs do not appear to oppose the dismissal of this case so long as that will not prejudice their forthcoming lawsuit.”
But Gonzalez said it would be “improper” to dismiss the case without prejudice, as the environmental groups sought, “even though all of the termination provisions have been satisfied.”
A dismissal “without prejudice” allows a plaintiff to re-file the case in the future.
She also rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that the case should not be dismissed until the government has paid a portion of their expert-witness fees and attorney’s fees. Gonzalez pointed out that the government has paid these fees in the past, and “there is no reason to believe that the parties won’t be able to work this out.”
She dismissed the case with prejudice, retaining limited jurisdiction to resolve the issue of fees.