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Three weeks ago, the Otay Water District’s general manager, Mark Watton, was on the defensive.
We’d just reported that Watton refused to disclose the top officials of a key company developing a seawater desalination plant across the border in Rosarito Beach. Though he’d negotiated with them, Watton wouldn’t say who he’d met with. Otay has spent $674,000 on the proposal and plans to spend millions more eventually purchasing water from the facility.
From my story:
The result is a shroud of secrecy blanketing a proposal that could enable the United States to tap Mexico’s ocean as a water source for the first time. If Otay does strike a deal, the district’s secrecy makes it unclear who stands to profit from the international water pact.
Watton went on LaDona Harvey’s show on KOGO AM 600 to respond to my story and assured Harvey that transparency was coming. He told her “you’re going to get a contact very shortly here today from the officers of that company. It’s not that they’re trying to hide.”
Three weeks later, I haven’t gotten a call from the officers of that company, Mexico-based Norte Sur Agua. Nor has Harvey. “Never heard a word,” she said in an email. Watton didn’t respond to a call for comment by deadline.
And so the shroud of secrecy remains.
We aren’t the only ones interested in lifting it.
David Peffer, an attorney with the Utility Consumers’ Action Network, a local watchdog group, today sent Otay a request for numerous records related to the project — including all emails and communication between the district and Norte Sur Agua. I asked Peffer what prompted his involvement.
“It’s pretty clear there’s something suspicious going on,” he said. “That kind of secrecy is completely inappropriate for an agency that’s supposed to be accountable to the public. We need to get to the bottom of that.”
Update: Watton emailed me back after this story posted. He said he’d passed my contact information to Gough Thompson, the chairman of Norte Sur Agua. “I believe he did make contact with the [Union-Tribune] so I do not know if he attempted contact with you,” he wrote. Thompson hasn’t returned previous calls.
Rob Davis is a senior reporter at voiceofsandiego.org. You can contact him directly at email@example.com or 619.325.0529.
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