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Foster Farms in Livingston Threatened with Water Shut-off by City; Judge to Decide
Foster Farms and the city of Livingston are heading to court in two weeks to see if a judge will prevent the city from shutting off the poultry plant's water supply, an effort to force the company to install a certain water protection device.
Foster Farms, city prepare for court
By Scott Jason, Last Updated: July 13, 2006, 01:38:00 AM PDT
LIVINGSTON -- There are three water connection points on Foster Farms' property that have no protection from contamination and violate state regulation, a city official said.
Both Foster Farms and the city agree protection is needed, but they disagree on what is the best way to safeguard the water system, which is at the core of the poultry processor's lawsuit against Livingston.
A hearing in Merced County Superior Court is scheduled for July 28, three days before city officials say they will shut off the plant's water. A judge will decide if the city must keep the factory's water flowing while the disagreement is settled.
The city wants Foster Farms to install an assembly it says gives the water system fail-safe protection from the chance of contamination, while Foster Farms says the assembly is unnecessary for the situation.
Foster Farms spokesman Tim Walsh told the Sun-Star in June the city's plan would cost $3 million to install and Foster Farms' plan would cost $200,000.
A company representative said Foster Farms wants to install a protection device that meets regulation and is widely used throughout the state at processing plants.
In court filings, the chicken producer said cutting off its water will "cause substantial and irreparable harm to Foster Farms' business, employees, suppliers and customers."
It will also create an unsanitary situation at the plant that could affect the public, according to the documents.
However, city officials say cutting off the water is the only way to get Foster Farms to agree to its water protection requests.
Because the city provides the water, Livingston Public Works Director Paul Creighton said the law allows the city to decide what protections are necessary.
However, in court papers, Foster Farms says the assembly the city wants is "unreasonable," "unnecessary" and "unprecedented."
"We stand ready and have always stood ready to do the right thing," said Foster Farms General Council Randy Boyce. "It's the wrong thing we are not going to do."
Foster Farms, which employs 3,000 people in the county, uses 1.45 billion gallons yearly of the 2.45 billion gallons the city pumps.
The poultry processor wants to install state-approved reduced pressure assemblies. Water flows through the assembly and if the pressure falls, a flapper prevents any contaminated water from moving in the opposite direction -- back flow -- and going into other pipes.
The city wants the poultry processor to install air gap assemblies, which Creighton said are "fool-proof."
"(The air gap) would protect Foster Farms from ever being blamed for causing harm to the city," Creighton said. "It's win-win."
An air gap assembly is like a sink faucet, said Ed Baruth, American Water Way Association's director of volunteer and technical support.
The break between the faucet and drain -- or in the pipeline at Foster Farms -- prevents any backflow, he said.
"An air gap assembly is the most significant protection because there's the break," Baruth said.
The AWWA is a nonprofit education and scientific association that aims to protect public health.
In its manual on backflow protection, the AWWA recommends either a reduced pressure device or an air gap device for canneries, packing houses and reduction plants, Baruth said.
Waste from the factory -- including chemicals and salmonella -- could contaminate drinking water pipes if a water main breaks or pressure falls, Creighton said. The reduce pressure assembly could fail. An air gap assembly can't, he said.
"If an air gap is not required at this facility, where would it be required?" Creighton said.
Air gaps are used in places where silicon chips are manufactured because arsenic and other poisonous chemicals are used, Boyce said.
"(With arsenic) one part per billion could kill you," he said. "You use an air gap because the threat is so significant."
Court documents filed by Foster Farms also cite wastewater treatment plants as using air gaps.
In its 67-year history, Boyce said Foster Farms does not know of any reports of backflow.
Boyce said company officials think the city wants air gaps installed because Livingston is having problems with water pressure.
"We see broad variations throughout the day in water pressure," Boyce said. "It's the only thing that makes sense."
An air gap would force Foster Farms to repressurize water used at the factory. As a result, the city would not have to pump the water through the factory, increasing water pressure throughout the city.
Mark Mulkerin, a Los Angeles-based attorney hired by the city for this case, said Livingston's water pressure is fine.
A recent reading put its pressure between 40 and 45 pounds per square inch (psi), he said. The law requires pressure to be more than 20 psi.
"Foster Farms has been trying to put up a bunch of smoke and mirrors as an alternative of what the real, legal basis is to this lawsuit," he said.
The courts will decide if the city is being unreasonable in its request for air gap protection, Mulkerin said.
"Do you take the absolute minimum level of protection or do you go for a higher degree of protection?" he said.
The city's deadline to file a response to Foster Farms' court filings is June 20. Mulkerin said the city is also going to ask the judge to throw out the lawsuit.