Confusion Hill Construction Worker’s Dumped Soda Lid Leads to $10,000 Fine, Intergovernmental Ess-Hitstorm

Hank Sims / Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012 @ 12:25 p.m. / Environment , Sacramento

From Orange County, the Tea Party capital of California, comes a story custom-made to advance a narrative about state regulatory agencies gone mad. The OC Register tells the tale of MCM Construction, contractors for the Confusion Hill bypass, and their death struggle with California’s regional water quality control boards over nearly $3 million in environmental fines levied on Caltrans after the project was finished.

The Register’s story says that the North Coast Regional Quality Control Board imposed the fines for illegal dumping of construction waste and other materials involved in the construction of the big bridges over the South Fork. Most photogenically: A single plastic cup lid that somehow found its way into the river is said to have resulted in a $10,000 penalty.

Now Caltrans and MCM — which is apparently expected to absorb some or all of the financial brunt — are taking the story of the soda lid to the courts and the Capitol. In their telling, it’s all about the water boards’ desire to beef up their budgets at the expense of private enterprise and the sister state agencies. Nonsense, says a spokesperson for the NCRQCB: Any money collected from such penalties is earmarked specifically to remediation efforts, and cannot be used for day-to-day operations.

More to the story? Quite possibly. Very probably. But the tale of the $10,000 soda lid seems to have achieved the desired result: A legislative committee announced yesterday that it will begin an audit of the water boards’ enforcement arms, the Register reports.

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