MODESTO -- The Modesto Irrigation District on Tuesday declined The Bee's renewed request for details on its tentative legal settlement with a company involved in a water treatment plant expansion.
An attorney representing the newspaper said state law requires that the information be released. The settlement, with the Kansas-based engineering firm of Black & Veatch, involves cost overruns resulting from design and construction flaws at the plant east of Waterford.
MID spokeswoman Melissa Williams said the district plans to release the settlement once the details are nailed down and a judge approves it. For now, she said, the parties have agreed not to release anything.
"Everything is still pretty tentative," Williams said. "They're working on the exact language."
MID officials have said the flaws could add as much as $30 million to the $63 million cost of the expansion. The city of Modesto, which is supplied by the plant, joined the district in the lawsuit in an effort to shield water customers from major rate increases.
The MID board and City Council voted in separate closed sessions Oct. 9 to approve the tentative terms with Black & Veatch.
The city attorney's office could not be reached Tuesday on the issue of disclosing the settlement. Mayor Garrad Marsh did say last week that it would not cost the city or MID anything.
The city and district are in talks with three other companies named in the lawsuit, including the main contractor, Western Summit Constructors of Denver.
The project was supposed to be done in 2009, but is expected to take until late 2014 or early 2015.
Karl Olson, the San Francisco attorney representing The Bee, cited a 1984 state appeals court ruling in arguing for release of the settlement. The court held that "the public interest in finding out how decisions to spend public funds are formulated and in ensuring governmental process remain open and subject to public scrutiny
clearly outweigh(s) any public interest served by conducting settlement
Olson said the fact that the MID board and City Council have approved the terms of the settlement means they should be released.
Joseph Kieta, editor of The Bee, echoed Olson's comments.
"California law is undeniably clear that the public has a right to see the terms of this tentative settlement," Kieta said. "MID needs to release this information now. What's there to hide?"
The newspaper will assess its legal options if the tentative settlement is not released, Kieta said.
An MID staff report in July cited problems with the expansion. Among them were steel plates installed in the wrong places atop masonry block walls, which complicated the connections to steel roof pieces. The report noted problems with the stability of six "membrane basins" and with the lower part of an exterior wall.
The expansion will double the capacity of the plant, which has allowed Modesto to reduce its reliance on wells.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2385.