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San Diego's Lawsuit Over Leaky Fuel Tanks Revived

The  Mission Valley Terminal as it appeared in 2008.
Amita Sharma
The Mission Valley Terminal as it appeared in 2008.

The city of San Diego's $300 million lawsuit against the owner of a leaky fuel tank farm in Mission Valley was revived by an appellate court on Thursday, according to the City Attorney's Office.

The federal lawsuit against Kinder Morgan Energy, filed in 2007, was dismissed by a lower court two years ago. However, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that there was enough evidence to proceed with a jury trial.

The contamination dates back to a series of spills in the 1980s from the Mission Valley Terminal just northeast of Qualcomm Stadium. The leaks created a gas plume underneath the stadium.

San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the city has missed out on pumping 3 million gallons of drinking water a day from an aquifer near the stadium for decades because of the contamination.

"And that is something that is today maybe possible if it's totally cleaned up," he said. "We don't think it's totally cleaned up and so we want to present our experts' evidence to the effect that there is still more to do out there not only for the water but for the property."

The city contends that Kinder Morgan, which purchased the facility in 1998, assumed the liability for decades of pollution from leaky tanks and pipelines.

"We had to fight for it, but this decision now ensures that the city will get its day in court," Goldsmith said. "The jury will hear that a substantial amount of pollution was dumped on city property through no fault of its own and that the adjoining property owner — not taxpayers — should bear the costs."

Attorneys for Kinder Morgan argued to the appellate justices that the city's lawsuit was speculative and based on unreliable testimony.

Company spokesman Richard Wheatley said in a written statement the company continues to believe that the city has suffered no harm as a result of the "former contamination" other than the legal fees and costs for pursuing the lawsuit.

A trial date has not been set.