It was standing room only as supporters of Curtimade Dairy lined the walls of Corcoran City Council Chambers during last night’s city council meeting.
Corcoran is currently suing the Curti family for $65 million dollars for damages incurred when their dairy allegedly contaminated the city’s water supply at the height of the drought in 2015. The Curtis have countered that their dairy has always been in compliance with all water regulations and permits and that the city wells have tested as having safe drinking water.
To loud applause from those in attendance, a dozen public speakers urged the city council to drop its suit against Curtimade Dairy. Local farmers and dairies say the city’s suit is just an excuse for some quick cash.
Tessa Hall, who owns the dairy with her father, gave a heartfelt invitation to the city council members to come tour their facility.
She said, “See us as human beings and the family that we are, and see the impact that a $65 million dollar lawsuit has on us.”
Tularean Xavier Avila said that Corcoran is Tulare’s sister city and that agriculture is in their DNA.
Everyone knows that ag is under attack, he said, and that when the extreme environmentalists fight to take the farmer’s water away Corcoran is the hardest hit. But Avila said that the city is unwittingly doing the environmentalist bidding by suing the Curtis and it needs to drop the suit.
“The people that want ag gone from the Valley are going to come after you (Corcoran) next.”
“It’s not going to stop,” said Avila.
Only the Lawyers Will Win
Kirk Gilkey, a third generation farmer in Corcoran, wanted to know how the legal bills were being paid. Is it “the taxpayer or is it on contingency? Who is driving this lawsuit, the city council, or city management, or the lawyers? How is the $65 million in damages determined?”
Gilkey said that Corcoran could drill several high performing wells for a fraction of the cost. Citing the mutually recognized fact that Curtimade Dairy’s wells have always been in compliance, Gilkey said, “I’m no lawyer but it does not seem winnable……only the attorneys will win.”
In fact, Anja Raudabaugh, CEO of Western United Dairies (WUD) said that the she discovered through a PRA request that the city’s legal bills were in excess of $1 million dollars. “Rising legal bills for out of town attorneys don’t yield access to safe and affordable drinking water to the residents of Corcoran. Nor do they help pay for new wells.”
Dr. Edward Henry, a veterinarian in Tulare, gave copies of the official state nitrate report to the city council. He noted that the report said that Corcoran’s nitrate levels were quite low and even lower than Tulare’s.
“Should this $65 million dollar lawsuit reach the courts and a judge looks at a simple summary like this, he is going to say where is the harm to the city?”
Henry requested that the council agendize an informational item for their next meeting to discuss this report. He also requested that the council agendize an action item to take a vote to drop the suit.
“I notice that an agenda item is scheduled during closed session. It would be really nice to have a report out of that session that we decided to drop this lawsuit.”
Alternatives to Litigation
Those speaking during public comment didn’t just suggest dropping the suit, but wanted the city to work with the ag industry to resolve its water issues instead of using litigation.
Michael Boyette, a Corcoran farmer, said that a Corcoran land owners’ group and the Corcoran Irrigation District (CID) came up with a feasible plan to rectify any issues with Corcoran’s wells at their own expense. He said that the city refused their offer. As a result he said that the Regional Water Control Board withdrew from the process because the city was negotiating in bad faith.
Tom Barcellos, Director of the Lower Tule Irrigation District, warned that whatever happens to the Curtis concerning the suit will have consequences for every ag business in the state. He suggested that Corcoran pursue other ways to secure more water such as working with his irrigation district and the CID, getting state money, or applying for grants.
Raudabaugh told the council, “I am here today to offer our organization’s full support in assisting the city with finding alternative solutions to the litigation at hand-which is guaranteed to solve nothing.”
She added that if the drilling of new wells is the problem, WUD can have a grant and an army of resources the city can choose from available by the next city council meeting.
“We invite you to join us as we seek to provide you solutions.”
All in the Family
In a moment of levity Dino Giacomazzi, a former dairy owner in Corcoran and Hanford, said that his elderly late grandmother drank Corcoran’s nitrate laced water her entire life and that “it took 105 years to kill her.”
Avila appealed to Corcoran’s better angels in light of the sudden loss of City Council Member Raymond Lerma. “We are your ally. We are not your enemy. The Curtis are your ally, not your enemy. We should be fighting together against the people…..that are taking our water and sending it out to the ocean.
“We can’t set a precedent. We have to support the Curtis. But we also have to support the city of Corcoran. You are just as important as the Curtis,” said Avila.
“We are family.”