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Oil companies sued for allegedly polluting Santa Margarita Ranch 

A local developer and land owner filed a lawsuit against Phillips 66 and several other oil companies after he says their leaking pipelines may have contaminated soil and groundwater in a section of the historic Santa Margarita Ranch.

Located just 6 miles north of SLO, the historic ranch’s origins date as far back as 1774. According to the lawsuit, filed by Rob Rossi in SLO County Superior Court April 29, oil pipelines that run under a portion of the 14,000-acre ranch have been leaking since 1995, causing toxic petroleum hydrocarbons to leach into the soil.

“Through this lawsuit, Rossi, a ranch owner, requests that defendants be held accountable for their actions, and directed to clean up their contamination and compensate Rossi for any and all related damages,” the lawsuit states. 

Rossi currently operates on 900 acres of the ranch, which is used for agriculture, ranching, and hosting entertainment and recreational activities. That portion of the ranch is bisected by the pipelines, which were installed in 1909 and have been replaced at least twice since then. According to the lawsuit, contaminated soil was discovered in multiple areas along the pipeline during a maintenance project, sparking an environmental investigation by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

According to board officials the case is still active.

The lawsuit alleges that the board’s investigation revealed elevated concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons in soil and groundwater samples, and asserts that the contamination isn’t just historic but ongoing. 

The contamination not only poses a potential threat to human and environmental health, but also has prevented Rossi from moving forward with several planned projects for the ranch, the lawsuit states. Those include plans to build a 111-unit residential complex, as well as a bed and breakfast, amphitheatre, and winery. The contamination has also stalled plans to improve agricultural operations, such as cattle and grape growing, on the property.

“Defendant’s contamination effectively restricts Rossi’s enjoyment of the [ranch]; presents ongoing liabilities; interferes with farming, ranching, his ability to beneficially use groundwater, groundwater recharge, development, and other uses; and impedes financing and conservation efforts,” the lawsuit states.

The oil companies named as defendants in the lawsuit included Phillips 66, ConocoPhillips, Union Oil Company of California, and Unocal Corporation. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages, and asks the court to order the companies to stop the leaks on Rossi’s property, as well as remediate any environmental damage caused by them. 

Rossi’s attorneys, Phillips 66, and ConocoPhillips declined to comment on the lawsuit. 

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