Former Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle’s public relations firm is helping organize small businesses along the Anaheim-Fullerton border to oppose current cleanup plans for contaminated groundwater, according to a number of sources.
What Pringle isn’t telling his former Anaheim constituents, the sources say, is that his firm is working for Northrop Grumman, one of several corporations being sued by the Orange County Water District for allegedly causing the contamination.
The trial in the potentially multimillion-dollar lawsuit is under way in Superior Court in Santa Ana.
To clean up the contamination, which began as far back as the 1950s and is mainly concentrated along the Anaheim-Fullerton border, the water district is planning to take polluted water from wells and run it through a pipeline to tanks where it will be purified and returned to the groundwater in North Orange County.
Construction on the pipeline, which would run for more than two miles along Orangethorpe Avenue, is scheduled to begin late this year. The purpose of the Water District's lawsuit is to force the companies to share in the costs of the cleanup.
Meanwhile, several sources say Pringle’s public relations and lobbying firm, Curt Pringle & Associates, is helping the companies push their argument that the contaminated water can remain and be treated in the wells, a much less expensive cleanup.
Neither Pringle nor Northrop returned telephone calls seeking comment.
The Water District argues that the system being promoted by Pringle and the corporations wouldn’t be effective given the types of chemical contaminants in the water and the way the wells connect to the groundwater supplies.
Fullerton City Councilman Don Bankhead, who is also a Water District board member, said representatives of Pringle’s firm contacted businesses along the proposed route of the pipeline and misstated the impact of the Water District's proposed cleanup.
"What came from that was some misunderstanding”about how long sections of Orangethorpe may be closed and whether a less expensive cleanup plan would work, Bankhead said.
Caught in the middle are business owners who worry they will lose customers if traffic along Orangethorpe is interrupted for very long. Their comments reflect the confusion that has come from the different messages sent by the Water District and Pringle's firm.
In February, about 60 business owners along the planned pipeline route signed petitions that urge the Fullerton City Council to “oppose this unnecessary public works project.”
The City Council is scheduled to receive a staff briefing on the issue at its April 17 meeting.
“I think most of the retail businesses along Orangethorpe are concerned about the drop in traffic going by,” said David Basner, co-owner of Premium Mattress Outlet. His business partner is one of the petition signers.
Businesses in general have struggled to stay open for the past four years because of the recession and the slow recovery.
“This [mattress] industry follows the housing market, so we’re truly concerned,” said Basner, who has made his opposition to the pipeline construction clear with a sign in his window that was given to him by the opposition organizers.
His business has been in the same Orangethorpe location in Anaheim for more than 12 years and, he said, his partner was told by anti-pipeline organizers the pipeline construction would involve extensive closure of Orangethorpe.
“It could do a lot of harm to me,” said Basner. “Fully 40 to 45 percent of my business is drive-by.”
Orangethorpe runs parallel to the State Route 91 freeway.
“This is basically a major thoroughfare,” he said. “If the freeways gets a little backed up, Orangethorpe gets heavier.” And heavy traffic on Orangethorpe is critical to the success of his business.
Then several weeks ago, Basner said representatives of the Water District came by and told him construction in his neighborhood wouldn’t take nearly as long as opponents warned. In addition, he said they promised to keep access to his driveway open, although not as much as he felt is necessary.
He said the water district representatives said the work in his area “would be very quick” and, he said, they told him what the opposition was “saying about being able to clean the water in the wells was patently untrue.”
Even so, he’s not convinced. The anti-Water District sign remains in his window and he worries what will happen to his company if drive-by traffic drops substantially.
Just down the street from Basner’s company, Danielle Smika, a co-owner of Letter Perfect, a sign and graphics design and manufacturing business, also signed the petition.
She said opponents of the pipeline warned her the Water District wanted to completely shut down Orangethorpe for “several months” while the pipeline was being installed in her area.
But then, she said, the water district told her that wasn’t true. She was told there would be disruptions, but that work would be done in sections and Orangethorpe wouldn’t be completely shut down.
“The explanation we got made it a lot easier to live with,” Smika said, “and hopefully it will work out OK.”