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South County Sanitation District ditches legal battle 

After years of battling state water quality authorities, the South County Sanitation District is moving toward flushing its legal battle with the regulatory body down the drain.

After a closed-session discussion at a June 1 meeting, legal counsel for the sanitation district’s board of directors announced that it had come to an agreement with the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to halt the legal proceedings surrounding a $1.1 million fine for a massive 2010 sewage spill. The district will use the stay in proceedings to negotiate a settlement.

The sanitation district had been fighting the fine for years, appealing it shortly after the water board levied the penalty in 2012. The spill occurred during a 2010 storm, when floodwaters caused an electrical malfunction at the sanitation district’s Oceano wastewater treatment plant. That malfunction caused the plant’s influent pumps to shut down, causing an estimated 674,000-plus gallons of wastewater to spill into nearby homes and the ocean.

Both the cause and cost of the sanitation district’s fight against the penalty became a flashpoint for some board members and residents, who believed the legal battle was costly and one of the major criticisms against the district’s former manager, John Wallace. Wallace eventually resigned from his position in 2013. Michael Seitz, the district’s legal counsel, resigned from his post in 2016. 

With Wallace and Seitz now out of the picture, the discussion over the fine has moved from defiance to cooperative.

“We are getting out of the lawsuit business,” Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals, who sits on the sanitation district’s board, told members of the Grover Beach City Council during June 6 meeting. “I believe we are pretty close to bringing it to a conclusion.” 

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