July 19, 2012
First the Monterey County Water Resources Agency and Marina Coast Water District commissioned separate reports detailing the collapse of the Regional Water Project; each report absolved its respective agency of wrongdoing in the alleged conflict of interest by former MCWRA board member Steve Collins.
Now, the agencies have filed competing claims against each other, and each matter is likely headed for court. In a claim filed Monday against Marina Coast, the county is seeking damages likely to total in the several millions of dollars, says County Counsel Charles McKee.
The county accuses Marina Coast's board members, counsel Lloyd Lowrey and General Manager Jim Heitzman of breach of contract, fraud, and conspiracy to bribe a public official, among other allegations.
"Because the conduct of the Marina Coast Water District and its co-conspirators violated [rules governing conflict of interest], the Regional Desalination Projects were terminated, the project was aborted, public funds were squandered and the Water Resources Agency was deprived of the benefits of the bargain it negotiated and the funds it contributed to the project," the complaints reads.
According to the county's findings, Collins was paid $160,000 by desal project contractor RMC Water and Environment. Those payments were allegedly funneled through Marina Coast, with knowledge and approval of its lead staff and board. Heitzman declined to comment on the claim.
Marina Coast's claim for $20 million against the county blames county counsel and elected officials for scheming to get Collins on RMC's payroll while he pushed the project in his capacity as a Water Resources Agency board member.
Collins maintains in his own $25 million lawsuit against the county that county lawyers offered legal opinions telling him the double dipping was ok.
"It’s a convenient crutch at this point to say, 'Oh I was told I could break the law,'" McKee counters. "Assume for the sake of argument someone had provided that ‘legal advice,' and that’s not a legal defense."
Marina Coast, MCWRA and California American Water had been partners in the plan that unraveled with criminal charges against Collins and an open California Fair Political Practices investigation into the former water agency director as well as county supervisors Dave Potter and Lou Calcagno.
The three parties failed to mediate an agreement. The California Public Utilities Commission has so far approved the recovery of $26.5 million that was spent on the project, which would've had an estimated $400 million price tag.