Curtimade Dairy and the City of Corcoran were scheduled to go to court early this year to hear a $65-million lawsuit concerning contaminated water. The city is suing the dairy over damages for allegedly contaminating their municipal wells with nitrates.
But now, Corcoran’s attorneys have told the court they are not ready to go to trial.
According to Tessa Hall, who owns Curtimade with her father Ben Curti, the court suggested the case be pushed to October of this year, but that still was not enough time for the city.
During a hearing in February in front of Tulare County Superior Court Judge David Mathias, Corcoran’s attorneys said the city needs another year to collect data before it will have enough evidence to litigate its case.
How did we get here?
Corcoran City Council, in an effort spearheaded by City Manager Kindon Meik, voted in June of 2015 to pursue legal action against the dairy. The case started with a notice of intent to sue for $8 to $9 million, and morphed to a lawsuit seeking $65 million worth of damages by August of 2019.
Six years after their first legal threats, the City of Corcoran is still putting its case together.
A 2019 fling by Farley Law Firm, representing Corcoran, states, “The city has undertaken an expensive and unsustainable mitigation program, while at the same time assessing that the cause of the ongoing and increasing contamination is coming from their adjacent neighbor — defendant Curtimade Dairy.”
Curtimade Dairy responded by saying state regulators monitor their water every year and their operation has never been out of compliance with nitrate levels. They also say Corcoran has also never been out of compliance for nitrates and is considered by the state as having safe drinking water.
To clarify, the city is not suing Curtimade over the city’s quality of water, but for past damages the city incurred in 2015 during the drought.
Tricia Stever Blattler, executive director of the Tulare County Farm Bureau, said, “I hope that when the city selects a new city manager they will consider one that will consider giving the council the guidance to drop this egregious and expensive pursuit. It’s wasteful of taxpayer dollars.”
Meik has taken a new job as city manager of Calabasas starting later this month.
Data collection takes time
In December of last year Farley Law firm submitted a letter to the court, City of Corcoran Scope of Intrusive Discovery at Curtimade Dairy.
In order to collect more data, the letter requests that Curtimade grant access to their dairy “to enable plaintiffs to establish at trial whether and to what degree defendants’ operation of this dairy are contributing to exceedances of nitrate and other drinking water quality standards at the nearby portions of the city supply wellfield.”
“Over a period of approximately one year” access to the property by the city “will involve intrusive testing and sampling of solids, liquids, soil and water at Curtimade.”
To gather their evidence Farley has asked the court permission to take water samples from existing wells, set up monitoring wells, and uncap and enable inspection of nonfunctioning wells.
In addition the city will hire experts to conduct “surficial solids sampling” by “perform(ing) ring infiltrometer testing at three exposed locations,” and will be doing soil permeability testing by collecting manure and wastewater solids in eight locations. The city is also asking to do “deeper subsurface soil and sediment sampling by making six deep soil borings using a sonic drilling rig to collect cores to a depth of 110 feet.”
According to Hall, “The scope of work for the year-long investigation they are demanding is well over $500,000 and involves drilling 14 wells on our property, dozens of samples and laboratory reports, hydrologists, soil analysts, geologists, engineers, etc.”
Judge Mathias met the city halfway in their request and ruled on February 18 Corcoran could have six months and their experts could conduct the same tests the regulatory agencies are allowed to do. According to Hall, Mathias didn’t understand why the city felt they needed to conduct the same tests but recognized their right to do an investigation as allowed under state law.
Both parties are still waiting for Mathias’ official ruling, and no date has been set as to when testing will begin.
“That’s the most frustrating part,” said Hall, “is the regulatory agencies have not found cause to take enforcement action against us, so the city is trying to do it instead.”
Leonard Herr, from the law firm Herr, Pedersen and Berglund, who represents Curtimade, said Corcoran has not provided direct evidence showing the dairy caused a spike in nitrates in city wells in 2015.
“Looks like they sued without the evidence,” said Herr.
Herr added that anyone familiar with water issues knows that the spike in nitrates in the Central Valley in 2015 was due to the drought.
According to the Community Water Center, “Approximately 300 communities have been unable to meet safe drinking water standards for more than a year, and in some cases more than a decade.” That includes over a million Californians.
Herr said the burden rests on Corcoran to prove their water was specifically contaminated by Curtimade Dairy. Corcoran is known as “The Dairy Capital of the World” and has thousands of acres of farmland.
Herr said that the State Water Resource Board is entrusted to monitor the safety of the water, and that Curtimade submits lengthy reports every year and is always in compliance with agency requirements.
“If Curtimade is copasetic with the state then why not the city,” said Herr. “A public entity is supposed to provide services to their citizens, not go after them. The city of Corcoran is fighting a war against a private family.”