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New Judge, No Change In OID Court Ruling

With a different judge on the bench, attorneys for the Oakdale Irrigation District on Tuesday, Aug. 9, attempted to dismiss a lawsuit regarding their water conservation program and the need for its environmental study.

The result was the same as the previous judge, as Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne ruled that a lawsuit filed by local farmers Louis Brichetto and Robert Frobose acting as the “Oakdale Groundwater Alliance” would proceed and the study was required.

In May of this year Superior Court Judge William Mayhew had ruled that OID must address environmental concerns raised before executing a fallowing program for local farmers – the context of the suit. As a result, the program came to a halt.

In the Aug. 9 hearing, OID attorney Valerie Kinkaid told the judge that OID was attempting to follow state mandates on less water waste with the fallowing program.

The program would have provided financial payment to participating customers for their allotted water on the condition it was used for conservation practices.

When the program was first initiated earlier this year, in lieu of an “Environmental Impact Report” OID had provided a “negative declaration” before instituting the program, which they claimed was all the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) required.

OID attorneys stated that to require an environmental study for every water deal completed would have a “chilling effect on the district.”

Also part of the Aug. 9 hearing was the plaintiff’s motion to produce documents.

At the hearing Kinkaid stated that they had no other records to produce and did not know what Osha Meserve, attorney for the plaintiffs, was missing.

The motion was denied and Judge Beauchesne told Meserve to “produce the record” which had become past due.

“Producing the record means that they will now have to produce the facts they’ve been avoiding to date,” said OID General Manager Steve Knell after the hearing. “Likely a reason that they have gone this route in delaying producing the record is they have no case when it’s put on paper. So this is good for us.”

Knell said the district’s plan moving forward is to prepare for a court case scheduled to begin the first week of November.

“Their five causes of action against OID have been reduced to one cause of action and that is the CEQA suit,” Knell said. “The other four causes, two including (Director) Osmundson, were without merit or substance and despite their reasoning for dropping them, they were losers.”

In July, attorneys for the Oakdale Groundwater Alliance had four causes, mostly centered on Director Gary Osmundson’s participation and voting in the district’s On-Farm Conservation Program, dismissed from their action.

According to Knell, the interrogatories requested to the plaintiffs by OID are due next week.

“They now have to present the facts that substantiate their premise that there are significant impacts,” Knell said, adding that they cannot just claim an impact is significant and stop a project. “They have to show their harm if the program goes forward. These next few weeks will be interesting.”

Sources who attended the hearing stated OID Directors Linda Santos and Gail Altieri were seen associating with Brichetto and Frobose prior to the commencement of the hearing.

In May, both directors, who had cast the dissenting votes for the program, went on record providing sworn statements to the plaintiffs’ attorney providing confidential information. As a result, Judge Beauchesne ordered that Santos and Altieri were prohibited from participating in any OID closed session item regarding the Oakdale Groundwater Alliance lawsuit and voting on any item in relation to the suit.