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The San Diego City Council agreed to pay legal fees that environmentalists have incurred since they sued the city in 2001 for violating the Clean Water Act. In exchange, the Surfrider Foundation and San Diego Coastkeeper have agreed to push back the city’s deadline to make the improvements they need in order to comply with the parties’ legal settlement.

The city said it is not on pace to replace the 200 miles of sewer pipeline that the settlement requires because it is barred from the bond markets. The city has been cut off from the public credit markets since 2004 because of its inability to produce audited financial statements.

The city will pay nearly $310,000 in legal fees that have come due for the plaintiffs, in addition to the $110,000 it has already doled out. The fees would be paid anyway because the environmental groups were the prevailing parties in the case, Deputy City Attorney Thomas Zeleny said.

Settling the case, which was also brought by the federal government, also required more frequent cleaning of sewer pipes, increased notification to residents about spills, more rapid repairs to sewer breaks, and moving sewers out of canyon bottoms.

Despite the sewer replacement setbacks, the city has made substantial progress through the other stipulations the settlement included. The increased service and improvements are the result of a 30 percent in wastewater rates.

Since 2000, the number of sewer spills has dropped by 84 percent and the number of contamination-related beach closures dipped by 75 percent, Coastkeeper Executive Director Bruce Reznik said.

“In a time where there aren’t a lot of good success stories, I think the city needs to get out there and put out this story,” said attorney Marco Gonzalez, who represents Coastkeeper.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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