July 6, 2022 

Sixteen to One in the Crosshairs? Raw Power: How the Water Board Rules California ~ The Mountain Messenger

SACRAMENTO–The State Water Quality Control Board has had a knack for getting good press. Who, after all, doesn’t want quality water?
Unfortunately, that’s not what the Water Board is about: it’s about the amassing of power for exercise by staff and control of California industry.
Undirected by the appointed officials allegedly running the Water Board, its staff pressed charges against Alleghany’s Sixteen to One Mine for prosecution. The Sixteen is accused of not filing 13 water tests. The Attorney  General is of the opinion the mine owes the Water Board some $2 million.
In superior court last Friday, the Attorney General held that there is no room for discussion, requesting the judge grant a motion for summary judgement. The AG won’t hear any argument. It remains to be seen if the judge will allow a defense.
There’s room for argument: the Water Board itself has contradicted the arguments of its lawyer, has violated the law, has not performed its “due diligence” as required, and appears only bent on squashing those not quailing in the face of power.
The AG argued the missing tests are vital to the maintenance of water quality, to have a base line against which variables can be compared.
Nonsense: in 2002, the Water Board was shown to have lost years of data personally provided by then-mine engineer Jason Burke. Water Board staff wasn’t even abashed when Burke produced certified copies. Evidently, no staff member was so much as reprimanded.
So much for the critical nature of data and the attention paid it.
The permit under which the mine is operating was required when the mill was operating, crushing ore. That hasn’t been the case for a decade.
When notified of this fact, the Water Board was required to alter the permit. Didn’t happen.
No matter, declared the AG. The case, the prosecutor argued, is not about the deficiencies or crimes of the government: it is solely about the missing documentation. The justice of the situation doesn’t matter. Only the $2 million is at issue, which must be imposed immediately.
Of course, that will bankrupt the mine. No matter.
Despite the requirements for open governance, the Water Board has made it a policy not to report what is about to do, nor what it has done, in closed session. The AG has not seen fit to enforce that law, the violation of which is a misdemeanor.
Further our state legislators, in their infinite wisdom, has given those objecting to that crime a statute of limitations of 30 days to protest.
Rarely does the involved party learn of the damage or the charges levelled, within 30 days.
But that issue is irrelevant, says the AG. 30 days is long gone. The law is on his side: justice and open governance bedamned.
It is good to be king.
To our knowledge, only once has the Water Board been forced to become at all accountable, and that took hostile crowds confronting Water Board members in nearly a dozen meetings across the State.
Water Board staffer James Giannopoulos had drafted statewide septic regulations to fix a problem at Santa Monica’s beach. The regulations were simply impossilble for nearly any compliance, but would guarantee huge and regular fines from individuals and counties around the State. Giannopoulos happily threw gasoline on the fire he’d lit by displaying a stunning arrogance, refusing to consider input from environmental health officials, and even elected officials.
Perhaps the possibility of their scalps ending in someone else’s possession finally convinced Water Board members to  withdraw the proposed regulations and shuffle Giannopoulos into a much less visibile position.
But generally it is someone else whose ox is being gored, and we, the public, tend to see that as a personal problem.
As recently noted in this journal and several others, arguments such as the AG is making in this case, and the “mandated sentences” imposed by the people’s legislators give prosecutors huge power.
They can just jack up the charges until their victim can’t afford to take the chance of defending himself in court. What starts as a simple fine becomes a multi-million dollar problem.
Rarely is there a penalty for prosecutorial misconduct. Recall the California District Attorneys Association’s carpetbagging prosecutors, Gale Filter, Kyle Hedum, Anthony Patchett and Denise Mejlszenkier, whose illegal prosecution of Miller for murder was well noted, but in no way punished.
If prosecutors as those above routinely get away with unethical behavior, what can we expect from political appointees who evidently don’t worry much about the concept of “ethics” or even legality.
The members of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board include Chair Katherine Hart, a Granite Bay proponet of sport fishing, Lyle Hoag, an engineer from Fair Oaks, Karl Longley, a Fresno professor of environmental engineering, Sandra Meraz of Tulare County and a former vice president of a water works district, and Dan Odenweller of Stockton, a former fisheries biologist. These people seem not to mind their staff runs the joint as it chooses, not even keeping their “bosses” informed.
If the Board cared, the insubordinate staff would already have been fired.
Today it is the Sixteen to One Mine. Sooner or later, it will come down on every human being who carries water.


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