Imperial Beach has accused Coronado of jeopardizing the War on Terror by suing Imperial Beach over who has the right to provide sewage services to the new Navy SEAL training facility proposed for the south end of Silver Strand.
Even though the area is within Coronado city limits, for over 50 years the city of Imperial Beach has been providing such services to the federal land which, until recently, held the Naval Radio Receiving Facility (known by locals as the “Elephant Cage” and demolished in early 2015).
Now that the extensive Naval Coastal Campus is being built, Coronado wants a do-over on the whole setup.
"Legal action by Coronado could result in termination of the very important Special Warfare Campus that is vital for U.S. national security," said Ed Vea, management analyst for the city of Imperial Beach in an official announcement.
"That is because environmental studies to analyze the new sewer alignment will take many months, significantly increase the cost of the facility, and jeopardize the funding for a project deemed critical in the War on Terror," the Imperial Beach statement said.
"We are proud partners with the Navy and surprised at the action taken by our neighbors in Coronado,” said Imperial Beach mayor Serge Dedina.
When asked if the lawsuit could delay construction of the SEAL campus, Mayor Casey Tanaka said, "That's possible but that's not the goal."
Tanaka denied that Coronado was impeding the War on Terror. "I don't agree that's true," he said. The purpose of the lawsuit is "to get clarity of which position is correct" in terms of the Navy's decision to continue with its agreement with Imperial Beach and "to find out if the Navy's action is legal," he said.
Because of that long-existing agreement, "the Navy believes that is a legal action to take," said Tanaka. "Otherwise it's clear in state law that you can't do that."
Tanaka said state law mandates that such infrastructure responsibilities are the domain of the city where the military base is located.
"I'm kind of shocked that they're saying this is going to delay things," said Blair King, city manager of Coronado, said of Imperial Beach's position.
"This area represents approximately 11.5 percent of Coronado’s land mass," King via email. The SEAL training campus is planned to be a "1.5 million square foot facility, on a footprint of 169.4 acres, on a 548-acre site which is located entirely within the City of Coronado."
"The City of Coronado never approved the previous agreement for service to the Naval Radio Receiving Station," King added. "Coronado feels that Imperial Beach is improperly extending its services within the City of Coronado’s boundaries without the approval of the voters of Coronado or its City Council."
"At the Navy’s request, without the approval of the Coronado City Council, Imperial Beach plans to extend and expand its wastewater services into Coronado," King said.
Coronado is also suing the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), a regulatory agency dealing with boundary issues, which in December 2015 determined that the agreement between the Navy and Imperial Beach is exempt from their jurisdiction and that, therefore, the agreement remains intact, according to LAFCO executive officer Michael Ott and documents related to the case.
There would be "an additional cost to the federal government of up to $31 million if Coronado's wishes were fulfilled," Ott said.
These infrastructure costs would overlap with environmental concerns because "the associated sewer infrastructure would also likely traverse through about 8-10 miles of environmentally sensitive habitat and result in the need to prepare supplemental environmental assessment in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)," according to LAFCO documents. "Estimated additional environmental assessment costs would be approximately $500,000."
LAFCO determined that if Coronado did take over the sewage work, the revised project would probably need Congressional approval to get more funding for the increased costs.
"We think it's important to follow the plain language of the law. Coronado disagrees with that," Ott said. Coronado could have appealed the decision to LAFCO without filing the lawsuit, he added.
King said that Coronado would agree with the wastewater extension if the project allows for the recovery of public infrastructure investment costs, as described in the project's original Environmental Impact Statement. Coronado also does not want to be liable for any sewer spills from the project and "we have asked that if Imperial Beach makes a profit from its Wastewater Operations that the profit from Coronado be returned to Coronado," King said.
Imperial Beach denies profiting from the deal. “The sewer departments in both cities are enterprise funds," said Andy Hall, "and all revenues must remain in those funds and cannot be used in the General Fund for general government activities.”
The money from the Navy "would not benefit the general fund, except to the proportional extent the City provides service to the sewer department (i.e. payroll)," Hall added. "Therefore, the City would not benefit, but in some measure it could be beneficial to the sewer department."
King said the lawsuit could be withdrawn "as early as tomorrow" if Imperial Beach would agree to a proposal by Coronado.
"We have put forward a proposal that allows Coronado to retain local control, does not affect the project’s schedule, does not affect the project’s budget, and allows Imperial Beach to upgrade its infrastructure," he said.
"I don't know if any profit is involved," King clarified, but said that planned infrastructure upgrades include extensive improvements throughout Imperial Beach. "Our proposal would allow for Imperial Beach to receive the benefits of these Navy paid improvements."
There might be more involved. “Imperial Beach provides sewer service to benefit the Navy," Mayor Dedina said, "It's our contribution to support our military’s defense of our national security."
"Hopefully it will be resolved very soon," King said of the lawsuit.