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Colfax Hurt By Regulation or Irresponsible Stewards?

Dec 05, 2011

Grass Valley Union

By Matthew Renda
Staff Writer

Speaking on the House floor in Washington D.C. this week, Congressman Tom McClintock told his colleagues that efforts to meet rigorous government clean water standards may bankrupt the small town of Colfax and its 1,800 homeowners.

McClintock (R-Elk Grove), whose district includes Nevada County and Colfax, used the town of Colfax as an example of a small town being fiscally handcuffed by a combination of overzealous regulatory agencies and predatory attorneys.

"Over the past several years, this little town has been utterly plundered by regulatory and litigatory excesses that have pushed the town to the edge of bankruptcy and ravaged families already struggling to make ends meet," McClintock said from the House floor on Dec. 1. "Colfax operates a small wastewater treatment plant for its residents that discharges into the Smuthers Ravine. Because it does so, it operates within the provisions of the Clean Water Act, a measure adopted in 1972 and rooted in legitimate concerns to protect our vital water resources."

McClintock said that an environmental law firm has sifted through public documents relating to Colfax's wastewater treatment plant and seized upon technicalities in order to bill the town $550 an hour in attorney fees.

He called the practice "unconscionable" and went on to say that legal fees owed by the town exceed its annual budget.

Bruce Kranz, in an open letter dated May 27, 2010, identified Lawyers for Clean Water in this instance, claiming they are bent on fleecing the municipality under the guise of environmental crusading.

"Lawyers for Clean Water, doing business as Environmental Law Foundation, might be more accurately called Lawyers to Clean Out Colfax," Kranz stated in the letter. "They seem bent on picking the pockets of Colfax."

Drevet Hunt, an attorney with Lawyers for Clean Water, took issue with McClintock's and Kranz's characterization of the issue.

“This is not the first time someone has said the Clean Water Act goes too far,” he said. “Mr. McClintock exaggerates a lot about the case in Colfax.”

For instance, the legal fees do not exceed the town's annual budget, Hunt said, who added that the rates charged were found to be reasonable by a federal court overseeing the case.

“We are representing our clients and there is a lot of expertise and skill that justify those rates,” he said.

To read the entire story please see tomorrow's print edition of The Union.

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