By Alex Groves
The City of San Juan Capistrano and Blenheim Facility Management (BFM) reached a settlement with environmental advocacy group Orange County Coastkeeper in a lawsuit regarding the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park at San Juan Capistrano, city officials announced on Friday, Sept. 7.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in July 2017, claimed the riding park contributed to pollution in San Juan Creek. The riding park land is owned by San Juan Capistrano and BFM is the operator of the park.
The city and BFM have denied the allegations in the suit. City officials said in a news release that the settlement was made as a a way to avoid “costs and uncertainties of future litigation.”
As part of the settlement, the city will fund $1 million in projects through the California State Parks Foundation that will benefit the San Juan Creek watershed.
The city will also pay Coastkeeper $1.9 million for its expert and attorney’s fees related to the lawsuit and future monitoring expenses.
Other requirements for the city and BFM include obtaining required water quality permits, developing plans for riding park improvements and implementing an employee training program on how to comply with water quality laws.
The lawsuit specifically alleged that the city and BFM were illegally discharging storm water and non-storm water into San Juan Creek without a proper permit.
It also alleged that the city did unpermitted fill projects that resulted in harmful run off in the creek.
Lastly the lawsuit alleged that the city reconstructed a storm-damaged crossing without permits and allowed unpermitted materials to stay in the creek.
Officials with the city, BFM and Coastkeeper all praised the accomplishment of a settlement.
“I’m grateful that our City’s internationally-recognized equestrian facility will be able to continue its award-winning riding competitions, annual rodeo, and other recreational and sports-related activities,” stated City Manager Benjamin Siegel. “The improvements to the Riding Park that we have agreed to as part of this settlement will benefit our community by ensuring compliance with regulatory agencies, protecting our natural resources and helping to preserve San Juan Capistrano’s equestrian heritage.”
Coastkeeper Executive Director Garry Brown said he was glad for the planned improvements to the creek and surrounding watershed.
“This agreement represents a collaborative effort to protect and restore fishable, swimmable and sustainable water resources that our communities depend on for our health and lifestyle,” Brown stated. “We are pleased that the City and Blenheim have committed to complying with all local, state, and federal water quality regulations, and we look forward to working with them over the next few years as capital improvements are made for the betterment of our communities and the preservation of our Southern California way of life.”
This story is developing and The Capistrano Dispatch will update it with more information.