Lawsuits flood Hughson tank project

HUGHSON -- City Hall is defending itself against more lawsuits brought by residents living near a large water storage tank.

The 750,000-gallon tank, built at Fox Road and Charles Street, was intended to help the city boost its water storage capacity. Nearby residents said they didn't know the 35-foot-tall tank would be built adjacent to their homes until it was under construction in the summer of 2006, and the city refused to move it after they complained.

Ronald and Sandra Billings fired the first legal salvo in March, with a lawsuit charging the tank was built illegally. Specifically, it said the city did not notify residents of City Council meetings at which the tank project was discussed.

In late July and early August, more homeowners sued the city. They included Fox Road residents Anselmo and Virginia Parra, and Willow Street homeowners Scott and Jeanette Ricardo, Jason and Amie Coley, Robert Gascon and Joanne Walker-Porter.

Last week, all of the parties signed an order consolidating the cases before Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne.

Michael Normoyle, a Modesto attorney representing the eight plaintiffs who recently filed, said his clients first tried to resolve the dispute in meetings with city officials. But the city offered no compensation for the damages the plaintiffs have suffered, he said.

"It appears the tactic being used by the city is to try to get the claims dismissed by a judge, rather than trying to do right by those who are bearing their own special form of suffering every day," Normoyle said in an e-mail.

Deputy City Attorney Jennifer Alves declined to comment, saying she didn't have permission from the City Council to discuss the litigation.

The plaintiffs contend the storage tank is a nuisance and invasion of their property. They allege it blocks their views, creates glare, has a noisy pump and doesn't blend in with the neighborhood.

The residents charge that city officials purposely didn't give them a chance to participate in the decision-making process because they knew the tank would be detrimental to the neighbors. The lawsuits seek compensation for damage to their property values, mental and emotional distress, litigation costs and other damages.

Normoyle said the city has said it isn't willing to buy his clients' homes. So, the plaintiffs will seek money.

Some residents have said that, before they bought their homes, they had no way of knowing they would be living next to the tank. According to the lawsuits, plans for the Willow Manor subdivision, approved in 1988, showed a storm drainage basin for the city property on which the tank was built.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or 578-2321.