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San Diego sues several parties involved in bay cleanup

San Diego has sued more than a dozen current and former companies, along with the Navy and the port district, to minimize any city payments for cleaning up tainted sediment in San Diego Bay.

Lawyers for the city said in the federal lawsuit that the defendants are responsible for costs associated with what could be a $100 million mandate to remove contaminated muck from the bay bottom.

The city makes an array of allegations against the parties, including breach of contract, negligence and creating a nuisance. Not all of the allegations were made against each of the defendants.

"This is just sort of another step that the city needs to take to protect its interests and the taxpayers' interests," said Alex Roth, a spokesman for Mayor Jerry Sanders. "We want to make absolutely sure that the people who were responsible pay their fair share."

Spokesmen for the Navy and the Unified Port of San Diego said their lawyers were reviewing the lawsuit and would not comment on the specifics.

"They are going to take the appropriate action, if necessary, to protect the port," said John Gilmore at the port.

For the past 16 months, many of the parties involved in the most recent lawsuit have been meeting behind closed doors to negotiate a sediment cleanup plan for roughly 60 acres of the bay floor south of the San Diego-Coronado Bridge.

Mediation talks are the result of a 2005 tentative order by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board that focused on removing 885,000 cubic yards of bay sediment at the estimated cost of $96 million. Some of the potentially responsible parties said the plan was too costly and too aggressive.

Lead, arsenic and potentially carcinogenic PCBs are among the toxins causing concern. Scientists and community activists fear the pollutants are harming the marine ecosystem and endangering the health of people who eat fish and shellfish from the bay.

In 2008, regional board officials decided to try mediation before enforcing a cleanup mandate in hopes that confidential talks would save time and avoid litigation. At about the same time, the regional board listed six groups on the hook for cleanup. They are General Dynamics NASSCO, BAE Systems San Diego Ship Repair, the city of San Diego, San Diego Gas & Electric Co., the Navy and the parent companies of San Diego Marine Construction Co.

Environmentalists quit the mediation sessions in September, saying they had been excluded from some discussions and the process had failed.

The remaining parties are supposed to make their revised cleanup plan public by Oct. 30. One of the most significant remaining issues is dividing up the costs.

Sanders' office said the lawsuit doesn't mean that talks had failed. "We are still in mediation (and) we are making very good progress," Roth said.

(read online version)

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