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PG&E backs down; appears ready to comply with SSJID rules for pipeline
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PG&E has backed off its threat to take legal action to force South San Joaquin Irrigation District to allow the utility to place a natural gas pipeline in SSJID right-of-way without following SSJID stipulations.

Five weeks ago, PG&E’s plans 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 were blocked by the SSJID board. The elected board was concerned PG&E hadn’t adequately addressed how it would assure the integrity of a key irrigation canal it was tunneling under. Plus the SSJID was alarmed that PG&E assumed it could simply dump water from excavating for the line into SSJID canals without asking for permission or even adhere to environmental laws.

The water table in some places in the area is just three feet below ground level. PG&E’s solution was simply to dewater the area and dump the water into SSJID lines without identifying what they’d actually be dumping into the lines. State law is tough on cities and farmers that send water into drainage canals and ultimately out into the San Joaquin River and the Delta.  There was also a district concern that if storms continue that PG&E using district canals to dewater could possibly trigger flooding in Manteca if the volume was high enough to disrupt the proper operation of the city’s storm drain system that relies heavily on the SSJID canals  to carry water away and to the river.

On Tuesday, the SSJID board will revisit the PG&E pipeline. This time a proposal is before the board that includes PG&E staff agreeing to modify their plans in accordance to SSJID standards and to satisfy safety standard requirements in accordance with the master encroachment agreement that PG&E signed with PG&E.

They also have agreed not to use SSJID facilities for dewatering needs.

SSJID Engineering Department Manager Sam Bologna is recommending that the board consider conditional approval of the new request plus require PG&E to reimburse SSJID for all expenses incurred related to the project. Bologna also is recommending the board require that the district be provided with a copy of PG&E’s dewatering plans so SSJID can verify effluent from PG&E’s dewatering operations won’t flow into SSJID drains from private property.

When the SSJID board voices concerns at the Jan. 25 meeting about the PG&E project and refused to approve the encroachment permit until some issues were addressed, PG&E’s initial reaction was not to deal with the issues but to try and intimidate SSJID into complying with PG&E demands by threatening to sue.

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.

The SSJID board meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the district office, 11011 East Highway 120.