Excelaron's $6.24 billion lawsuit against SLO County heads for appeals court

dsneed@thetribunenews.comMay 22, 2014 

Excelaron proposed oil drilling at sites on the second ridge behind the Mankins Ranch in the Huasna Valley east of Arroyo Grande.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

The fate of a $6.24 billion lawsuit against the county over a failed attempt to drill for oil in the Huasna Valley hinges on whether the case was filed in a timely manner.

Oral arguments in the lawsuit will be made at 9:30 a.m. May 30 before the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeal. The case will be heard in the county Board of Supervisors chambers in San Luis Obispo.

The oil exploration company Excelaron sued the county after the county Board of Supervisors denied its application to drill up to 12 wells on the Mankins Ranch in Huasna Valley east of Arroyo Grande. The company claimed the county deprived it of its mineral rights and sought compensation.

Superior Court Judge Martin Tangeman dismissed the suit last year at the request of the county, before it could go to trial. He ruled that the oil company did not file and serve the suit within a 90-day deadline. The appeal was served 39 days after that deadline.

In the company’s appeal, land-use attorney Sophie Treder argued that the county’s rules regarding appeals are misleading and conflict with state statutes.

“The county effectively asks this court to reach a decision that would render its local ordinance superfluous and meaningless, which cannot be correct,” she wrote in her brief.

In the county’s brief, Deputy County Counsel Whitney McDonald argued that the state government code clearly requires that an appeal must be filed and served within 90 days of a decision.

“This service deadline is inescapable and is based on sound public policy that promotes quick and efficient resolution of challenges to local land-use decisions,” she wrote.

The Court of Appeal can either uphold the lower court decision and dismiss the case or overturn it and return it to the local court. If the appeal is granted, the county Superior Court would have to hear the case from the beginning, McDonald said.

Excelaron’s attempt to drill for oil in the Huasna Valley caused a series of divisive hearings before the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. In denying the request in August 2012, supervisors said oil drilling was incompatible with the lifestyle of the rural and isolated valley.

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