Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce Dudley announced Dec. 7 that her office has reached a settlement with Southern California Edison over a grading project that caused environmental harm in the Mission Canyon area.
Civil and criminal complaints alleged that between Dec. 4 and Dec. 16, 2019, SCE did unpermitted road work along 1.6 miles of Spyglass Ridge Road, starting at the base of the Inspiration Point trailhead. The project used large construction equipment to scale rock on the uphill side of Spyglass Ridge Road, grade the road surface, remove vegetation and grade berms on the downhill side of the road.
The work created almost 1 million gallons of rock, sediment and debris, which went down the slopes and into Mission Creek and its tributaries. That altered the streamed and blocked water flows while degrading the natural habitat and causing the permanent loss of some native trees and vegetation.
Since the incident, SCE has been working with regulators, both to improve the safety and stability of the area and to undo some of the damage to Mission Canyon and Mission Creek. The company pled to a misdemeanor violation of the California Water Code, and any future violations can be charged as a felony.
SCE will also pay a $10,000 criminal fine to the State Water Quality Control Board for deposit in the State Water Pollution Cleanup and Abatement Account. The company also admitted civil liability to several violations of the California Fish and Game Code and the California Business and Professions Code. Because of that, the company must continue working with regulators to undo the damage and will pay a $3.5 million civil penalty.
The money from the penalty will be split several different ways, with $875,000 of the penalty going to fund supplemental environmental projects in the community. Santa Barbara County will get $1.3 million from the penalty, and both the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the county’s Fish and Wildlife Propagation Fund will receive $656,250.
SCE will also reimburse the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office $25,000 and the CDFW $15,000 for investigation and prosecution costs.
“The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office is committed to prosecuting violations of California’s Environmental laws,” Dudley said. “While the decision to charge a corporation criminally is not one that prosecutors take lightly, our office will do so when the underlying conduct warrants such action. We believe the resolution in this case reflects the seriousness of SCE’s impact on our environment. We commend the company for accepting responsibility and committing to remediate the damage it caused and appreciate the company’s cooperation throughout the investigation.”