Need to Know the Wastewater Treatment Plant Dispute Settlement
Updated April 15, 2015
...As I told you when this
case started, this involved really the future of people yet
unborn, and it involved probably the present population of
somewhere close to 10,000 people that are going to be affected
by this resolution now, and were going to be affected ultimately
by your decision. But again, I say that your presence here
really affected that in the most positive way.
- Sonoma County Superior Court Judge
Elliot Daum, advising the jury of the settlement on March 25,
...I don't think it would have
resolved the way it has resolved, which ended up being on a
really positive note and looking forward to a really good future
between these two communities if you had not taken the time and
the trouble to come here and get seated on this jury. -
Brooktrails Township Board President Rick Williams thanking the
jury on March 25, 2015
On Thursday March 19, 2015, Brooktrails Township attorneys began
presenting the Brooktrails case.
Three days of testimony were given. You can read or download the
trial transcripts for
March 19, 2015,
March 20, 2015, and
March 24, 2015.
As noted in the
Willits News, on Sunday, March 22,2015, Willits Mayor Bruce Burton contacted
Township Board President Rick Williams to arrange a mediation
session. On Tuesday, March 24, 2015, while the trial continued
in Santa Rosa, in Willits a 12-hour mediation session was conducted by mediator
former Mendocino County Judge James King on Tuesday.
Wednesday morning a settlement resulting from the mediation
session was reported to the Court (that
transcript can be viewed here). As mutually agreed, Thursday
a joint press release was issued. On
April 6, 2015, a final Settlement Agreement was signed. On
April 15, 2015, Board President Williams sent a followup letter
to Mayor Burton.
Subsequently news stories appeared based upon inaccurate
information apparently provided by others. It is important that
our ratepayers understand the settlement as Brooktrails
officials understand it.
the details of the settlement, it is important to quote
press release regarding what Brooktrails officials regard as the
most important outcome of the settlement:
"...The settlement established lines of communication
for consideration of issues of joint interest and concern as
those issues might arise in the future. For example, the
settlement put in place a process for considering the
establishment in the future of a Joint Powers Agency to
administer the wastewater treatment plant."
previously noted on this website, the dispute began in 1997.
Thirteen years later, in 2010, the Township reluctantly filed a
lawsuit. You can view
the filed complaint here. As you can read, Brooktrails
requested judicial declaratory relief regarding matters related
to what Township ratepayers were paying for sewage treatment plant operating
costs, specifically regarding compliance with contractual
provisions on accounting, auditing, and flow
metering. As you can also read, Brooktrails requested judicial
declaratory relief regarding whether the Township was obligated
to pay for a 2003 real estate purchase.
settlement specifically provides that over the next four fiscal
years the Township will pay to the City a flat $22,000.00 a
operating costs. The settlement specifically
provides that a new meter will be installed to accurately
measure the wastewater flow entering the wastewater treatment
plant. At the end of four years, a contract compliance audit
will be completed on the City's accounting and flow records and the City and the Township will
use this information to develop a system of determining the
Township's future obligations for operating costs.
Further the settlement specifically provides that the Township
will not pay for the 2003 real estate purchase, billed in the
amount of $285,386 plus interest (according to
the City's Cross-Complaint).
to filing its original complaint, the Township learned that the
capacity in the new wastewater treatment plant had been reduced
in the design of the new plant,
threatening the capacity available to owners of vacant lots who
may wish to build a home. Brooktrails filed
an additional lawsuit on this issue. The settlement
guarantees the Township's right to use that important capacity it purchased in 1982.
that capacity issue, the Township
filed a cross-complaint regarding its liability for debt
incurred for building the new wastewater treatment plant. The
settlement provides that the Township pay $213,500 on
$397,952.38 previously billed unpaid past loan payments and Township's share of
payments be reduced 4.5%, down from $376.90 per $1,000 of debt
to $360.00 per $1,000 of debt. Also, the Township's liability
for future capital purchases will be similarly reduced.
We hope this
explanation will clarify why Township Board members approved the
What You Need to Know about the Willits Wastewater Treatment Plant Dispute
Updated February 2015
The Brooktrails Township is a California public agency
committed to honoring its contracts with others and complying with
the Constitutions and laws of the United States and the State of
California. The Brooktrails Township expects others,
particularly other public agencies, to share that commitment. By
doing so, we all avoid the costs and stress associated with
Since 1997 the Brooktrails Township has been asking - and
then insisting - that the City of Willits
honor a contract providing for the allocation of
operating costs for the Wastewater Treatment Plant. Since 2005
the Brooktrails Township has been asking - and then insisting -
that the City of Willits
honor a contract providing for the allocation of construction costs for the new Wastewater Treatment
Plant. Since 2013 the Brooktrails Township has been asking that
the City of Willits
new Wastewater Treatment Plant be brought into compliance with
federal and state laws in order to avoid polluting the
groundwater and surface waters of the Little Lake Valley.
Thirteen years after the dispute started
in 1997, Brooktrails filed a lawsuit seeking declaratory relief
from the failure of the City of Willits to honor the contract.
The contract compliance issues involve
millions of dollars. Those millions of dollars represent per customer
sewer service charges totaling at least $24.50 per month
continuing for decades as follows:
- The City is demanding that Brooktrails ratepayers pay at least $7.25
a month to subsidize wastewater treatment
costs that should be borne by City ratepayers pursuant to the
- The City is demanding that Brooktrails
ratepayers pay at least $9.50 a month to subsidize wastewater
plant construction loan costs that should be borne by
City ratepayers pursuant to the contract.
- The City has taken wastewater treatment plant capacity previously purchased
by Brooktrails as capacity "exclusive" to Brooktrails; this has
created the possibility of a shifting of
costs from vacant lot owners to current Brooktrails
ratepayers amounting to a rate of at least $7.75 a month.
the policies establishing these long-term costs also would determine how
future wastewater treatment plant repair and capital improvement
costs would be distributed to Brooktrails ratepayers.
The dispute is complex but others have tried to succinctly
summarize it. The Local Agency Formation Commission
of Mendocino County in its November 2014 Public Review Draft of
the City of Willits Municipal Service Review states:
"On September 11, 1967 the City of Willits (City) and the
Brooktrails Resort Improvement District – now the
Brooktrails Township Community Services District (District)
entered into an agreement allowing the District to dispose
of up to 0.49 mgd ADWF of sewage into the City WWTF.
"The Agreement has been amended over the years: Amendment No. 2 in 1975
(which also repealed Amendment No. 1); Amendment No. 3 in 1982; and
Amendment No. 3 in 2007. In 1997, a dispute arose between the District and the City
regarding the allocation of operating costs for the WWTF.
This dispute, along with several other issues has been ongoing
for the past 17-years. In 2010, the District filed a lawsuit
in Mendocino County Superior Court seeking declaratory relief
regarding a number of issues, including metering to measure
the flow of sewage, accounting methods and allocation of
operating costs, annual audits, WWTF construction costs and
plant capacity, and disposal of treated effluent.
"The degree of time and energy devoted to this situation is best reflected in the
respective meeting agendas of the City and the District, as at practically every
regular and special meeting there is a closed session on this litigation. There does
not appear to be any resolution of these issues in the foreseeable future. As
the District said in a report to its ratepayers in June 2014:
'Township officials in 1997 did not believe litigation was
the best option for the region. As it turns out, it has been
made clear after 17 years that the only way all four
components of the dispute can be resolved is through an
‘independent adjudicator, be it judge, jury or arbitrator,’
as the [then] City Attorney threatened in 1997.'”
October, this was written in the Anderson Valley Advertiser:
"THE DISPUTE BEGAN
WITH accounting questions back in 1997 and culminated in a
lawsuit in 2010 after Brooktrails was unable to get the City
of Willits to comply with the with the terms of their
agreements. The main focus of the dispute now is that
Willits expects Brooktrails to pay for treatment capacity at the
new plant that is needed to treat sewage from Willits.
Brooktrails is willing to give up treatment capacity that it is
entitled to, but only if Willits will agree to pro-rate the
treatment plant construction costs based on the flow that each
party contributes to the plant. Willits is supposed to meter
the flow but the meter quit working in 2002 and Willits never
replaced it with a meter capable of accurately measuring the
amount of flow that each party contribute."
always, the Brooktrails Township provides an updated full
explanation of the dispute on line with extensive supporting
documentation. Use the link below to be fully informed.
A complete explanation of the Brooktrails viewpoint
as of November 2014 is available here
However, you may wish to make yourself aware of
recent occurrences not included in that explanation by reading
further on this page.
Summaries of Recent Dispute-Related
A recent exchange over the lack of working accurate meter
measuring flow entering the
WWTP for 13 years began with the presentation of an
Report, Item No. 9e (1) for the November 12, 2014 Willits City
Council meeting. In its November 14, 2014, edition
The Willits News offered this report:
"Adding fuel to the already hot conflict
between Willits and Brooktrails, was Willits confirmation at the
Nov. 12 council meeting that its flow meter measuring the total
flow of sewage into the new plant was built wrong.
"Brooktrails advised the city in July 2013 it considered the new
meter to be inaccurate. The city took no action. In October 2013
Brooktrails had its contractor inspect the meter.
April 2014, Brooktrails provided the city with copies of the
inspection showing the meter had a number of installation flaws,
according to [City Attorney James] Lance.
"The city took no action.
July 2014, after the city sent Brooktrails a bill for payment
(based on the faulty meter) Brooktrails requested a copy of the
calibration records for the meter in question. Willits contacted
a meter calibration firm which advised the city there were
problems it had found in October 2013. The firm, MCC Control
Systems, confirmed the problem areas in August 2014. One
problem, a programming error, was corrected in September 2014.
The other involving the improper installation of the meter, was
not discovered during the original installation by Speiss
Construction Company in 2009.
"Lance suggested the city
contact Speiss to have the problem corrected.
installation error is corrected the city expects to use the
meter leaving the plant to determine flow rates through the
The problem with the idea of using
the meter leaving the plant to determine flow rates is that the
contract between the City and Brooktrails specifically provides
that operating costs "shall be apportioned annually by the City
according to the ratio of flow of the District to
the total flow entering the treatment plant."
Still one might want to say "what's the
problem?" The answer is in the 2007
Memorandum: Willits WWfP Influent Flow Meter page 3 of 12
which states (emphasis added):
addition to the agency agreement, the City is required by their
NPDES Permit to regularly report the total flow to and/or from
the facility. This report is based on data collected from the
flow meter located in the plant's influent sewer. Flows
measurements reported from this location should only include
influent flow - that is flows prior to flow
splitting to the surge basin and/or the return of
any process flows drained back to the influent sewer for
What that statement in a report from
the plant's design engineer's recognized is that when the sewage
comes into the plant from the sewer collection systems of the
City and Brooktrails, after the flow goes through the influent
meter some (or all) of it can be diverted to holding ponds,
surge basins, from which it can evaporate, percolate into the
ground, and overflow into the Little Lake Valley. And even
if that wasn't possible, once the sewage is in the ponds the
City can determine when and at what rate that pond sewage is
pumped into the treatment plant and out of the plant after
In other words, that the city expects to use the
meter leaving the plant to determine flow rates into the plant
is inconsistent with generally accepted engineering practices
and the practices of the Regional Water Quality Control Board
(RWQCB) as pointed out in
this February 19, 2015 letter to the RWQCB from former
Board Chairman Daniel Crowley. The new plant was built specifically because the old
plant could not deal with peak flow periods. If they don't
accurately measure influent, there will be no record of peak
The Agenda Report and City staff asked for a response
from Brooktrails. The Brooktrails General Manager initially sent a
on November 17, 2014, to
the City Manager pointing out that both the sewer plant's permit
from the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Agreement
between the City and Brooktrails require a correctly functioning
meter measuring the sewage influent as it enters plant, as well
as any meter measuring the effluent as it leaves the plant.
That meter combination allows federal and state regulators to determine wastewater
losses from the various storage ponds. In the General Manager's
letter it was noted Brooktrails would be providing engineering
recommendations regarding the metering of influent which the
General Manager did in a December
3, 2014, letter recommending the installation of a Flo-Dar
meter which was the
expressed preference of the WWTP project manager on January 3,
December 15, 2014, letter the Willits City Manager and
Willits Public Works Director stated:
"With respect to your
suggestion to install a Flo-Dar meter to measure incoming flows,
we request that you provide a written recommendation with a cost
estimate, both prepared and signed by a Registered Civil
Engineer licensed by the State of California to support this
In a response
December 19, 2014, letter, the Township General Manager
"Pursuant to your request, we will have a report
'prepared and signed by a Registered Civil Engineer licensed by
the State of California.' Prior to the issuance of the requested
report we would like our engineering representative to inspect
the manhole(s) immediately upstream from the current influent
meter as soon it can be scheduled at our mutual convenience."
Two months later after not being
contacted by the City to set the inspection, the Brooktrails
General Manager sent a
February 19, 2015, letter stating:
"The Township had hoped
that the City would schedule the aforementioned inspection so
that field findings could be confirmed in the report. It is now
apparent to the Township that the City is not prepared to
schedule such an inspection. Therefore I am attaching the report
prepared by our engineering consultant that includes cost
estimates for acquisition and installation of a "Flo-Dar" meter.
The report was prepared and signed by Donald G. McEdwards, a
registered engineer licensed by the State of California."
On February 20, 2015, the Township received
a letter from the City Manager and City Public Works Director
In an effort to verify and quantify the inaccuracy of the
parshall flume influent meter, the City installed two Flo-Dar
meters immediately upstream of the plant that, collectively,
measure the total influent contributed by Brooktrails and City
The City's letter went on to explain
because they had installed a new meter and observed it for a
brief period in 2015 it justified that the City bill the
Township for $132,171 for fiscal year 2012-13 operating costs.
The matter of authorizing this bill was set for the February 25,
2015, City Council meeting.
On February 25, 2015, the Township
a response letter authorized by the Township Board
"The City’s aforementioned February 19, 2015, letter reports
that after thirteen years of there being no functional influent
meter at the Wastewater Treatment Plant as required by the
contractual Agreement between the City and the Township, there
is some cause for optimism as this failure has now been
corrected by the City’s installation of the industry standard
Flo-Dar type radar meter. That optimism is tempered by our view
that the City's sudden enthusiasm for measuring influent metered
flows after a hiatus of thirteen years is not very impressive
coming as it does two weeks before trial on this very issue.
"The February 19. 2015, letter is also cause for alarm as
after all these long years of controversy it reflects another
violation of the Agreement.
"To briefly recount the facts,
in November 2014 the Council provided Brooktrails with an agenda
packet in which it was reported to the Council by your staff
that the influent meter installed in construction of the
Headworks between 2009-2010 was designed incorrectly and
constructed incorrectly and that the data from the meter was not
reliable just as the data from the meter it replaced was
unreliable between 2002-2010. The City invited input from
Brooktrails officials regarding a solution. At the conclusion of
the meeting it was reported that the matter would be on a future
Council Agenda with a recommended solution.
to the invitation for input, on December 3, 2014, I sent a
letter to you recommending that the City install a Flo-Dar meter
upstream from the existing influent meter. It appears that the
City somehow approved an unbudgeted expense to install a Flo-Dar
meter without bringing it back to the Council, and without
complying with Section 10 of the Agreement which requires that
cost estimates, specifications, and/or plans for improvements be
submitted to the Brooktrails Board for approval. At this point
Brooktrails officials have no idea what was installed, where it
was installed, or what specifications were used. The letter
refers to the new meters in the plural which indicates that more
than one meter was installed. Given the significance of this
issue, the City should have complied with Section 10 and should
have invited Brooktrails' experts to monitor the installation.
"...Finally, officials of the Township will view any
action taken by the Council at the February 25, 2015 meeting
consistent with the recommendation in the staff report as what
it truly would be - an ineffective pre-trial maneuver."
Another recent occurrence (which was
mentioned in our website June 2014 Report) was the
November 10, 2014, of a new cause of action by Brooktrails related to the
above mentioned taking of Brooktrails purchased exclusive wastewater treatment plant capacity.
Simply, contrary to the project's Environmental Impact Report the new sewage
treatment plant was designed with less capacity than the old
plant leaving insufficient capacity for City customers after
deducting the Brooktrails-owned exclusive capacity.
Brooktrails pointed this problem out to the City in the Spring
of 2013 but was reluctant to file the action in court because if
successful it would impose a moratorium on new sewer connections
in the City. However, because of the new water connection
moratorium ordered by the State (see below), the effect on the
City would be minimal particularly since Brooktrails has
suggested the new matter be combined with the existing lawsuit
so that legal expenses would be reduced. And the City could address
both the water supply and sewage treatment capacity issues
within the same time period.
At its August 5, 2014 meeting the Brooktrails
Township Board of Directors adopted a resolution expressing a concern
that a large volume of partially treated sewage from the Willits
sewage treatment plant is percolating directly into the groundwater
in the Little Lake Valley. About 20% of this sewage is from Brooktrails
homes and businesses. The concern is the potential impact on our neighbors
in the Little Lake Valley who depend upon wells for their water.
Brooktrails had raised the issue in April 2013 based upon anecdotal reports
and subsequent data gathered by a local state-licensed engineering/hydrogeology business
showing that in excess of 100,000,000 million gallons per year
of sewage entered the sewage treatment plant but seemed to
disappear in the ponds associated with the plant, probably
percolating into the groundwater.
can read more about this problem and the Brooktrails effort to
get it corrected
Related to that "missing sewage problem"
was the receipt of a September 17, 2014, letter from the Willits
Mayor to the Brooktrails Board President insinuating that
the local engineering/hydrogeology business mentioned above at the
behest of Brooktrails officials engaged in "a planned mission,
attempting to lay a trap with the hope that City staff would
violate its permit and accept diesel fuel mischaracterized as septage." It was, of course, not true.
The letter was written less than eight weeks before the upcoming
election. The Willits-area engineering/hydrogeology business
which has an
unsullied reputation is providing
professional engineering services to many local private clients.
The City had not made the letter public. Brooktrails did not
Unfortunately, the City
Manager at the October 28, 2014, Brooktrails Board of Director's
meeting insisted the letter be made public and that the
Brooktrails Board President respond.
download the letter exchange as well as a review of the
incident by another engineer (it is a large PDF file with
functional links to state websites). As noted in Board President
William's letter to Mayor Madrigal: "The Brooktrails Board is
choosing to not take offense at the accusations in your final
paragraph in the spirit of needed regional unity."
If you haven't already done so, use the link below to become
A complete explanation of the Brooktrails viewpoint
as of November 2014 is available here