By Lillian Boyd
According to a settlement agreement released on Monday, May 20, Moulton Niguel Water District has agreed to pay $4.8 million in unpaid bills and legal fees to settle a lawsuit originally filed by Dana Point-based South Orange County Wastewater Authority in 2017.
The joint statement released by all parties involved in a lawsuit filed against MNWD was short and simple—unlike the litigation that had led to it.
The statement said that the agencies involved would work together in the future toward the betterment of the region and the coastal environment.
The initial suit was filed by SOCWA in May 2017, alleging that since July 2016, MNWD had stopped making payments toward the upkeep of a SOCWA-run water treatment facility, which serves several cities, including Dana Point, Laguna Beach and parts of San Juan Capistrano.
In March, The Capistrano Dispatch reported that a preliminary court ruling placed MNWD on the hook for roughly $2 million in delinquent payments related to capital improvements and maintenance costs for a wastewater treatment facility at Aliso Creek.
The Riverside County Superior Court on Tuesday, Feb. 26, tentatively ruled that Moulton Niguel is responsible for paying its share of the bills toward the Coast Treatment Plant’s upkeep in Laguna Niguel until February 2030.
Moulton Niguel “is legally obligated to pay its proportional share of all costs, including capital costs and items, necessary to operate and maintain the Coastal Treatment Plant,” the tentative ruling states.
“This was how the judge interpreted the contract to establish a contract end date and to determine what money was owed,” said Joone Lopez, General Manager of MNWD.
The Dispatch received a scanned version of a check for $4.8 million from MNWD to SOCWA dated May 20. According to a statement released by SOCWA, MNWD will pay approximately $2.1 million to cover past invoices dating back to July 1, 2016 and will pay approximately $2.7 million to reimburse legal costs incurred by Laguna Beach, South Coast and Emerald Bay during the dispute. Lopez stated that a breakdown of costs for the $2.7 million had not been part of the agreement discussion yet.
In the May 20 joint statement from SOCWA, Moulton Niguel, South Coast Water District, Emerald Bay Service District and the city of Laguna Beach, it read that in regard to litigation on the coastal treatment plant, the parties have agreed to resolve their differences on mutually agreeable terms.
As members of a joint agreement with SOCWA, Moulton Niguel, South Coast Water District, Emerald Bay Service District and the city of Laguna Beach are each required to pay a certain portion of costs to maintain the treatment plant.
According to a news release sent by Moulton Niguel Water District, all legal proceedings relating to this litigation, including potential jury trial, have been concluded as part of an agreement.
“With litigation behind us, we will work to make necessary improvements, and then evaluate its size, cost and technology in an effort to optimize its long-term value to the region,” the Moulton Niguel Water District release states.
As for when the contract expires in 2030, Lopez says MNWD will “without a doubt” not be renewing a contract.
Lillian Boyd is the city editor for the Dana Point Times. Follow her on Twitter @lillianmboyd1, the DP Times @DanaPointTimes and The Capistrano Dispatch @TheCapistranoDispatch