JULIA ROBERTS - Plays the part of Erin Brokovich superbly in the film of the same name. Here we focus on some of the assets that served her so well when investigating the contamination at Hinkley in California.
ANGELES (LA) TIMES APRIL 2015
year, a final cleanup plan is moving toward approval. Last month, a
long-awaited, five-year study to determine how much contamination
PG&E may be responsible for finally got underway.
then, hundreds of residents have left. Property values dropped because
of the stigma surrounding the town, and PG&E launched a buyout
Starting in 2010, PG&E offered to either provide clean water or buy properties of residents whose wells tested positive for chromium.
said that when the program was announced, there was a high level of
anxiety in the community and many residents wanted to sell their
properties rather than take the water. The company, he said, wants to
see Hinkley thrive.
2010 and October 2014, when the program was formally discontinued,
PG&E purchased about 300 properties, he said.
STUFF - Working with Edward L. Masry, a lawyer based in Thousand Oaks, California, Brockovich went on to participate in other anti-pollution lawsuits. One suit accused the Whitman Corporation of chromium contamination in Willits, California. Another, which listed 1,200 plaintiffs, alleged contamination near PG&E's Kettleman Hills compressor station in Kings County, California, along the same pipeline as the Hinkley site. The Kettleman suit was settled for $335 million in 2006.
despite the progress, many Hinkley residents still worry about how much
chromium 6 will remain in the water. PG&E is required to clean up to
the levels at which chromium 6 naturally occurs in the groundwater — a
number known as the background level.
levels of chromium 6 nearest to the compressor station — where no
residents remain — exceed that by large numbers, PG&E's testing in
domestic wells elsewhere in the community shows chromium 6 levels below
10 parts per billion, most often between 0 and 5, Sullivan said.
solicited help from John Izbicki, a U.S. Geological Survey research
hydrologist who has studied naturally occurring chromium 6 in the Mojave
Desert. With pressure from residents, PG&E acknowledged that its
earlier study was lacking. It is paying for a five-year study led by
Izbicki that is expected to conclusively determine the background level.
REAL LIFE CASE UNFOLDING
Gleeson Developments Limited are a property developer firm based in Sheffield in the United Kingdom. Like other house builders they are looking to acquire land to make profits for their shareholders. With the recent abandonment of local policies in England, it is like a Land Rush to acquire greenbelt (previously undeveloped land used in farming) that would not have been possible to build on before David Cameron and George Osborne gave councils the order to build houses to try and dig the country out of debt. Even difficult to develop sites are now being snapped up, such at that at Herstmonceux in East Sussex - a field that around 300 objectors in the village did not want buildings on.
HERSTMONCEUX VILLAGE, SUSSEX, ENGLAND
The village at Herstmonceux in Sussex is served by a very few local shops and one junior school that is overloaded. Locals are being priced out of the housing market steadily - a trend that a not in accord with a sustainable society.
The original application to develop this land was filed in December 2014 in the name of Tim Watson and (possibly joint) land owner Sue Goldsmith. This application was withdrawn and a second identical application was filed in January of 2015 in the name of Gleeson Developments Limited.
According to their website: "MJ Gleeson plc specialises in urban housing regeneration and strategic land trading. Latest Share Price: £ 567.00p at 11th January 2016."
ERIN BROKOVICH - Erin Brockovich-Ellis (born June 22, 1960) is an American legal clerk and environmental activist, who, despite the lack of a formal education in the law, was instrumental in building a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) of California in 1993. Since the release of the film that shares her story and name, she has hosted Challenge America with Erin Brockovich on ABC and Final Justice on Zone Reality. She is the president of Brockovich Research & Consulting, a consulting firm. She now works as a consultant for Girardi & Keese, the New York law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg, which has a focus on personal injury claims for asbestos exposure, and Shine Lawyers in Australia.
Apart from the fact that there are no places at the local school and public transport is one bus every hour from Stagecoach - with journey times to Eastbourne of around an hour, Herstmonceux benefits from a very rare generating building from the turn of the century that is now a working Museum, and that Museum is linked historically to the Windmill at Windmill Hill. At the moment you can see across the field from the public footpaths to both buildings - one of the rarest views in the world - and a reminder of the days when windmills ground flour for a local bakery to bake the daily loaves.
This generating building relies on water from an ancient well and the well is at the foot of the hill on which Gleeson Developments would like to build around 70 houses. A blot on the landscape maybe, but it gets worse. Water from the hill feeds the ancient well. It follows that any land contamination from the construction process, or in years to come from the domestic development, will filter down to the water table and enter the well water. The water level in the well rises and falls with rainfall from the gently sloping hill. There is no escaping this fact. But so far there have been no assurances or confirmation of a Bond to cater for future claims.
CALIFORNIA - GROUND WATER CONTAMINATION - The
town of Hinkley, California,
located in the Mojave Desert, (about 121 miles driving distance
north-northeast of Los Angeles) had its groundwater contaminated with
hexavalent chromium starting in 1952, resulting in a legal case against
Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and a multimillion-dollar
settlement in 1996. The legal case was dramatized in the film Erin
Brockovich, released in 2000.
That would mean that every person buying a house on this field would be first in the chain of litigation claims. All the householders would need to do is allow herbicides and pesticides from their gardens to enter the watercourse. The same goes for engine oils and paints.
Knowing that this is sure to be a future issue, the Museum operators will need to constantly monitor activities in the field next door to be able to prove who the culprits are. The house owners, even if they are at fault, will then need to claim against their house insurance - and they may well find that they are not covered where no 106 Agreement exists and there is no Bond to cater for contamination claims. If their home insurance covers claims against negligent development, and/or the grant of a permission that then proves to be void, their homes would have to be demolished. In such cases the developers would need to compensate the home buyers for not making appropriate provision and/or otherwise safeguarding the planning consent.
It may also be that where this field suffers from flooding at the other end, that has to be provided for at the design stage, that remedial and preventative drainage is likely to alter subsoil water flow characteristics - leading to wider claims, such as with landslip. It all depends on the soil characteristics and geological strata juxtaposition.
At the moment the local authority are being asked to explain which of their officers provided information to the committee who passed the application. Other questions also need to be answered as to Declarations of Interest, since this application was passed by only one vote. It may well be that after scrutiny, the planning consent is deemed to be void. Members voting on applications need to do so on an informed basis. If there is any failure to advise on the part of the officers, such as Kelvin Williams, the district planning officer. The Chief Executive officer of this council is Charlie Lant.
In light of the above, every stage of the construction process will need to be monitored to be sure that if the development goes ahead despite the know issues, that there is a photographic record of who did what. We are off to a good start with exploratory holes being dug at the top of the hill near an specimen oak and another exploratory hole or trench being dug not many feet from the ancient well.
FOR THE RICH & THOSE ON BENEFITS
On their website Gleeson say: "Owner occupiers shoulder responsibility for their homes & are stakeholders in society, which is why we refuse to sell our homes to private landlords. We are happy to see our customers profit from their purchase but we do not wish to put the profit into the pockets of private landlords."
The truth is that the houses that will be built on this field in Herstmonceux will be bought by private landlords for renting. This is what is happening in the village and outlying hamlets. Why? Because working families cannot afford to live in Herstmonceux, with own transport being a prerequisite and these days that means two cars per family. Families on low incomes will qualify for Housing Benefit and on that benefit landlords grow fat. It is only with Housing Benefits that these houses will be occupied - making the affordable housing situation worse.
MOVIES - Brockovich's work in bringing litigation against Pacific Gas and Electric is the focus of the 2000 feature film, Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts in the title role. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing in a Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. Roberts won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Erin Brockovich. Erin Brockovich herself had a cameo role as a waitress named Julia R.
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