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A California appellate court ruled last week that, before conducting suitability tests for a massive tunnel project that will divert water to farms and residents in Southern California, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) must first purchase the land on which the studies will be conducted. DWR wants to build two 30-mile tunnels to send fresh water under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to Central and Southern California. Before work on the $25 billion project can start, DWR needs to run geological and environmental suitability tests on hundreds of properties to determine the exact route for the tunnels. In ruling on a petition by the State, the San Joaquin County Superior Court ruled that the planned geological studies - which involve drilling holes 200 feet into the ground and permanently filling them with concrete when the testing is finished - constitutes a "taking," requiring acquisition and payment of just compensation to the owners. The court nevertheless granted DWR the right to enter the properties at will for up to 66 days in exchange for the State's deposit of a predetermined sum in anticipation of potential damage to and interference with the properties. Both DWR and the landowners appealed. In a 2-1 decision, the appellate court overturned the trial court and held that the extensive nature of the tests and their imposition on property owners went well beyond precondemnation investigation requiring DWR to purchase the properties before it can conduct the geological studies.
Thousands of farmers in drought-stricken California are rallying this week in opposition to regulations that have frozen water supplies across the state. One farmer said the drought, combined with cuts to water deliveries, have slashed his bottom line by more than 50 percent, and he may have to sell half of his property to keep the other half. At issue is a Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last week that upheld federal guidelines limiting water deliveries from the northern part of the state to the southern part of the state -- to protect an endangered fish called the Delta smelt. The ruling went against a lower-court ruling that overturned the 2008 guidelines from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Environmentalists fought to preserve those guidelines, but farmers say they're preventing vital water supplies from reaching the areas that need it most.
Property owners can't sue the Federal Aviation Administration for approving public funds for proposed airport improvements, a federal judge has ruled. U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton granted the FAA's motion for dismissal of a claim that it granted public money for a private project in violation of the Uniform Relocation Assistance Act. The Border Coast Regional Airport Authority operates the Del Norte County Regional Airport, also known as Jack McNamara Field. The Authority consists of representatives from several communities in southern Oregon and northern California, according to the complaint. The airport has until the end of 2015 to come into compliance with the FAA's design standards for runway safety areas. Doing so, however, means closing roads and acquiring lots in a nearby subdivision to make up for the loss of wetlands as result of the improvements. The Pacific Shores Property Owners Association says the Authority wants private property owners "to bear the cost of the environmental impacts to widen its airport runway."
DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.
© Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP
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