Image - SAM suit
The city of Half Moon Bay is suing the Sewer Authority Mid-coastside because it says the intertie pipeline installed on the Midcoast doesn't directly benefit the city ratepayers. Review file photo

A nonprofit interested in protecting the state’s waterways from pollution is suing Sewer Authority Mid-Coastside for dozens of spills that have occurred on the agency’s watch since May 2013. 

The Ecological Rights Foundation filed the complaint against the agency in July, alleging that the sewer treatment plant was responsible for illegally leaking more than 557,000 gallons of raw sewage. Most of the spilled sewage — the amount reported from the sewer treatment plant itself — has made its way to surface waters, the complaint states, with tens of thousands of gallons spilling into neighborhoods in Half Moon Bay, El Granada, Montara, Miramar, Moss Beach and Princeton. 

“Sewage contains human waste, viruses, protozoa, mold spores and bacteria,” the complaint states. “The inadequacy of the wastewater sewage collection system and the serious ecological problems resulting therefrom have been known to SAM for years.” 

The complaint goes on to state that the water near SAM’s discharge points — a beach at Pillar Point Harbor and another at Venice Beach — are listed on the Clean Water Action list as impaired due to the presence of bacteria such as E. coli that are used to detect fecal matter. It goes on to say that SAM’s discharging of “raw and/or inadequately treated sewage has contributed to, and continues to contribute to, the impairment of the Pacific Ocean and Half Moon Bay.” 

The Ecological Rights Foundation describes itself as a public benefit corporation that strives to protect waterways from pollution and provide for clean drinking water and diverse wildlife populations. It is based in Garberville, Calif., and its members reportedly fish, swim, boat, picnic and hike on the Coastside, according to the complaint. The lawsuit calls for the defendant to pay $37,500 per day per violation for all spill violations occurring after April 13, 2013, and is requesting $51,570 per day per violations occurring after Nov. 2, 2015. The nonprofit is also asking for compensation of its costs related to the lawsuit and wants SAM to “take appropriate actions to restore the quality of navigable waters impaired by their activities.” 

A representative of the Ecological Rights Foundation was not immediately available to comment on the lawsuit. 

SAM General Manager Beverli Marshall declined to comment on the suit. 

This is at least the second lawsuit filed against the Coastside’s only sewer agency. In 2017, the city of Half Moon Bay filed a lawsuit against SAM and two member agencies — Granada Community Services District and Montara Water and Sanitary District — claiming that Half Moon Bay shouldn’t have to pay for an intertie pipeline system that doesn’t benefit its ratepayers. 

The agency has been discussing both cases — along with undisclosed anticipated litigation — in closed session at its recent meetings. 

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