Encinitas enters into park fine negotiations

Encinitas enters into park fine negotiations
Water, turned brown by sediment, travels from Rossini Creek into the San Elijo Lagoon in December 2012. The city and USS Cal Builders agreed to enter into negotiations to reduce a $430,850 fine for two discharges. Photo courtesy of Eleanor Musick

ENCINITAS — The city and USS Cal Builders entered into settlement negotiations with the California Regional Water Quality Control Board in hopes of reducing a $430,850 fine for sediment from the Encinitas Community Park entering downstream waterways.

The water control board levied the fine this past November after rain carried sediment from park construction into Rossini Creek and the San Elijo Lagoon, once in December 2012 and once in March 2013.

By choosing the settlement route, the city and USS Cal Builders waived their right to a public hearing within 90 days, said Rebecca Stewart, sanitary engineering associate with the water board’s prosecution team.

Should the city, USS Cal Builders and the prosecution team agree on a settlement, the water board must approve the amount during a public meeting, which wouldn’t happen until at least May, Stewart said.

If a settlement isn’t reached, a hearing will be scheduled in which the water board can affirm, reject or modify the fine.

“All settlement negotiations are confidential, so I can’t comment on the progress or content of those negotiations,” Stewart said.

The city is likely liable for a larger share of any potential fine.

That’s because the fine is split into two violations. Both USS Cal Builders and the city are named in the complaint for the two sediment discharges entering Rossini Creek and the San Elijo Lagoon.

Rossini Creek, a riparian wetland that begins at the foot of the park, snakes southwest and discharges into the mouth of the San Elijo Lagoon, which is near Birmingham Drive and San Elijo Avenue.

The city alone is responsible for failing to fix ineffective drainage controls on the park site over several months, according to the water board’s complaint.

This past December, Glenn Pruim, Encinitas’ director of public works and engineering, said the city wasn’t out of compliance for that entire period of time. The site needed drainage work on certain days due to the nature of construction, but the days were spaced out over several months, he said.

Work began on the park, located behind the Vons on Santa Fe Drive, in September 2012.

The park is expected to debut to the public this fall.

Residents have raised concerns about contaminated soil, which was buried deep beneath the park, emerging into the waterways during the two discharges. Stewart said last December that the water board is confident the contaminated soil was deep enough below the park to prevent it from flowing into the waterways.

However, she noted the city and USS Cal Builders didn’t take samples of the discharges. If they had done so, that would have put residents’ fears to rest, she said.

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