CALIFORNIA CITY — The California City city council scuttled a proposal to serve as the state-selected administrator for the North Edwards Water District after the item was pulled from the agenda Tuesday night, Sept. 22.
City Manager Anna Linn told the council that she’d received a lot of phone calls and emails regarding the topic.
“It’s very controversial,” Linn said.
The California State Water Resource Control Board approached California City earlier in the year and asked the city to serve as a contracted administrator for NEWD regarding high arsenic levels in its water supply. North Edwards was ordered by the US Environmental Protection Agency at the start of the month to reduce the arsenic levels.
According to a Sept. 2 EPA news release, North Edwards Water District must comply with the arsenic maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 10 micrograms per liter no later than April 30, 2023. The system has been serving water with arsenic levels above the MCL since at least 2013.
NEWD serves 600 residents on 200 water connections and manages two groundwater wells.
According to a California City staff report, Cal City would act as administrator for two to three years until North Edwards Water District “establishes its own board and a self-sufficient utility department.”
Linn, in requesting the item be pulled, said her concern “is the impact and the risk involved on the existing city.”
Mayor Chuck McGuire agreed with Linn’s assessment.
“There is too much of an unknown,” McGuire said. “That area has had high arsenic levels for 50 years know, and now I’m curious about why the big push all of a sudden.”
Linn said North Edwards’ proximity to California City was the main reason for being placed on the agenda. She added the item was placed to see if council “had an appetite” for the proposal and allow public works to do more research before being brought back to the council for approval.
“They’re our neighbor, they reached out to us,” Linn said.
She added she had faith in the city’s public works department skill to mitigate the arsenic levels.
“My concern is the impact on the existing staff, finding [additional] people that are qualified and overextending ourselves and the risk to the city,” Linn said. “We’re in the middle of putting ourselves back together and we have been through a year-and-a-half of transition.”
Linn said adding something “that is not an emergency is a concern for me to the city at this time.”
Pulling the item from the agenda meant informing the state water board the city isn’t interested and should look elsewhere for an administrator.
Councilman Ron Smith said his concerns revolved around state reimbursement, risk to the city and the two-to-three year commitment it would require.
“It seems like a bad deal for our citizens,” Smith said.
Mayor Pro Tem Don Parris added North Edwards Water District has been the subject of lawsuits regarding past contractors.
The lawsuit Parris noted revolved around North Edwards Water District terminating a contract with Clark Brothers, the general contractor selected to build an arsenic treatment plant.
The lawsuit had the ripple effect of the general contractor delaying payment to subcontractor Crosno Construction, who was hired to build and steel-coat two reservoir tanks. Crosno started its work in April 2014 but was later ordered to stop in November 2014. By that time, Crosno had nearly completed its project, including having the two tanks erected on site.
Crosno invoiced $562,435 for its work but Clark Brothers informed its subcontractor in that same month that North Edwards Water District had terminated its contract with the general contractor.
The general contractor sued NEWD in December 2014 for breach of contract, resulting in Crosno not getting paid for its work. Crosno filed a claim with the project’s payment bond holder Travelers Casualty that same month. Travelers Casualty rejected Crosno’s claim after it invoked a pay-when-paid clause and told Crosno to wait for a resolution between North Edwards and the general contractor.
Crosno eventually sued Travelers Casualty and won approval by a lower court; Travelers appealed the decision to the Fourth District Court of Appeals. On April 17, the appeals court ruled in Crosno’s favor, citing that “There is simply no legal or public policy basis to require subcontractors situated like Crosno to wait until after the conclusion of litigation … to be entitled to payment on a payment bond.”
The civil suit between North Edwards Water District and Clark Brothers remains ongoing.
Councilmember Bill Smith said despite North Edwards being a sister community, he saw little revenue in it and a problem the community hasn’t solved in decades.
“I think we have enough problems of our own,” Smith said.