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PG&E again on hook for SSJID legal expenses

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POSTED March 11, 2010 2:00 a.m.
South San Joaquin Irrigation District incurred roughly $5,000 in legal expenses due to PG&E’s threat to take them to court over a natural gas pipeline that the utility essentially wanted to place within the SSJID right-of-way on PG&E’s own terms.

The legal tab, though, will be covered by PG&E if the San Francisco-based utility firm accepts terms of a conditional approval the SSJID board gave to the pipeline project on Tuesday.

It is the second time in 30 months that PG&E has had to pay for SSJID legal expenses incurred when SSJID refused to let PG&E simply have their way with SSJID property.

PG&E – since the issue first came up six weeks ago – has modified their plans in accordance to SSJID standards and indicated they would satisfy safety standard requirements of the master encroachment agreement that PG&E signed with SSJID. In order for the project to proceed based on the SSJID board vote Tuesday, PG&E now must provide the district with a copy of their dewatering plans to guarantee whatever they pump out during excavation will not make its way back in district facilities. PG&E also must agree to cover legal costs that SSJID incurred.

After the SSJID board initially refused to allow PG&E to access right-of-way without complying with SSJID requirements last month, PG&E attorneys fired off a letter demanding that either the SSJID agree to their terms within 30 hours or else they would take SSJID to court.

That forced SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields to scramble to review the district’s legal position using their regulatory and environmental lawyers. Steve Emerick, the SSJID staff attorney was on vacation at the time.

PG&E’s lawyers claimed that SSJID had no authority to impose environmental requirements on them nor did they have any real authority to stop them under the rules of the California Public Utilities Commission.

In a letter from PG&E counsel Mark H. Penskar dated Jan. 27, 2010, “PG&E demands that SSJID withdraw any demand that it submit CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) documentation for the Line 108 pipeline project as a special condition of the project.”

PG&E attorneys threatened to sue unless SSJID gave into their demands by 5 p.m. on Jan. 28.

PG&E wants to install a 24-inch natural gas line running north from West Ripon Road to Woodward Avenue about a quarter mile west of Union Road.

This is the second time that PG&E has been forced by SSJID to cover legal expenses that the San Francisco-based utility’s actions caused the district to incur.

On Sept. 13, 2005 an employee with the firm PG&E contracted with to help derail SSJID’s plans to enter the retail power business and reduce rates 15 percent across the board in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon pilfered sensitive SSJID documents relating to their retail power plans by using wireless access while they were sitting in the board room during an SSJID meeting. Those pilfered files were then forwarded to PG&E.

It triggered several investigations including an inquiry by the FBI.

PG&E admitted that sensitive SSJID computer files came into PG&E’s possession that shouldn’t have.

The San Francisco-based power company denied liability although PG&E paid SSJID $446,161.70 as a “full and final settlement” to end the SSJID lawsuit filed against PG&E on Nov. 2, 2006.

PG&E - in a carefully crafted settlement agreement dated Sept. 9, 2007 - stopped short of admitting direct responsibility for the Sept. 13, 2005 high-tech theft of six sensitive, non-public documents from SSJID computers.

The settlement says in part, “Other confidential electronic documents wrongfully obtained by Meridian Pacific from SSJID’s computer and then forwarded to PG&E were never intended by SSJID to be shared with PG&E; Meridian Pacific’s actions resulted in PG&E’s receipt of documents it never should have possessed and PG&E regrets the conduct of Meridian Pacific and regrets receiving SSJID’s information from Meridian Pacific.”
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