In The News

 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008 10:30 PM PDT

CALEXICO � The New River is one of the Imperial Valley's oldest problems, having remained the country's most polluted waterway for years despite residents' attempts to attract the government's attention.

On Wednesday in this border city, a San Diego lawyer offered what he said was a new approach to cleaning up the river. Instead of waiting for the federal or state government to act, attorney Dan Lawton said the courts could be used to hold American companies that operate polluting maquiladoras responsible.

“We think the courts can do things the government isn't going to do,” Lawton told a group of about 20 residents that showed up at Nosotros Park in Calexico for the gathering. “Anyone in Calexico that has suffered because of the river is someone we are interested in listening to.”

Lawton said his firm has been studying the river and its possible effects on residents who live nearby.

A potential lawsuit could mean payments to residents who have been affected by the river and an injunction to stop the pollution, Lawton said. Complaints against the companies could include charges that the pollution has caused health problems, such as cancer, and harmed residents by decreasing the values of their homes.

The government could also be a defendant in a potential suit, Lawton added.

Lawton has not been hired by any of the residents to pursue a lawsuit.

Lawton said he was only aware of one previous lawsuit related to the New River. That suit, he said, involved Border Patrol agents who sued after they had to enter the river while doing their jobs.

Many of the residents who attended the meeting were from the neighborhood surrounding Nosotros Park, which overlooks the New River.

Ruben Moreno, a Calexico resident who grew up near the New River, came to the meeting on behalf of his parents, who still live near the polluted stream.

As a kid, he said he had allergies and trouble breathing when he would jog in the neighborhood.

Moreno said he was interested in the lawyer's ideas, but that he was most concerned with cleaning up the river, not getting a payout.

“We're not here because we want to get money out of a lawsuit. We want to stop the pollution and solve the problem,” he said.

Moreno also said his parents have suffered financially by living near the river. They've been trying to move away from the river for 10 years, he said, but haven't been able to get a high enough price for their home on Calexico Street.

Ernestina Calderon, who has lived on Calexico Street near the New River for 22 years, said she was diagnosed with cancer last year. On her block, she said five of her neighbors have the disease.

Calderon said she has long urged government involvement in cleaning up the river, traveling to Sacramento last year to tell state legislators her story.

She said Lawton's plan appealed to her because it was “very different from all the other meetings that we have had” on cleaning up the river. She said she would talk to her neighbors about working with Lawton on a possible lawsuit.

“At least, with him, there is hope,” she said.

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