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Lawsuit against beef-processing plant to proceed

demurrer denied

February 17, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

Imperial County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Jones on Friday ruled a lawsuit against a beef-processing plant in Brawley can move forward.

In a blow to B.P. Ventures, the company that is building and would operate the plant, Jones denied a court action by the company to bring a quick end to the lawsuit.

B.P. Ventures filed a demurrer asking the court to end the lawsuit against the beef plant.

That lawsuit was filed by Brawley resident Darwin Cohee, who owns a soil-reclamation business near where the plant is being built. Cohee has said traffic brought by the plant could kill his business. His lawsuit seeks to delay the project while his traffic concerns are addressed.

The demurrer sought by B.P. Ventures asked the judge to end Cohee's lawsuit on the grounds he failed to name the company as a defendant within the statute of limitations.

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In Cohee's initial filing he did not name B.P. Ventures but did name the city of Brawley and individual city officials for allowing work to start on the plant.

Before Friday's hearing, Jones announced he had as an attorney represented Brandt Cattle Co., which is owned by Bill Brandt, a partner in B.P. Ventures. That representation was four years ago.

He asked the attorneys for Cohee and B.P. Ventures whether they wanted him to continue presiding over the case.

Jones said when he ruled against a demurrer filed by the city to stop Cohee's lawsuit months earlier he did not know Brandt was among the owners of the beef plant.

The attorneys for Cohee and B.P. Ventures consulted with their clients and said they had no problem with his presiding over the case.

Jones then said there were "procedural" issues with the way in which the demurrer was filed by the attorneys for B.P. Ventures. Jones said for that reason he could not address the merits of the demurrer.

He also said the time to file further demurrers has passed, which means B.P Ventures will not have a chance to file a corrected demurrer and the case will move toward a hearing on the merits of Cohee's lawsuit.

"This is extremely positive," said San Diego attorney Chris Trunzo, representing Cohee. "We are pleased with the court's ruling. We look forward to the resolution of this case during the hearing on the merits."

A hearing date had been set for April. However, Jones said that date might change.

Cohee's lawsuit stems from his concerns that traffic on Shank Road in the eastern section of Brawley brought by the beef plant would prevent trucks from pulling in and out of his business.

Officials with B.P. Ventures have said the plant will create 600 full-time jobs initially but said that does not mean there will be 600 vehicles traveling on Shank past Cohee's business.

Cohee asked the city to hold off awarding a permit that would allow work on the plant to start until his traffic concerns had been addressed.

City officials argued traffic studies did address the issue, and they said the amount of traffic from the beef plant will not create a need to expand Shank.

Cohee has said he is waging a court battle to protect his business, which has been on Shank since the 1970s.

Other business owners on Shank during a Brawley City Council meeting said they were not concerned about traffic and that they wanted to see the beef plant built.

Work on the beef plant is moving forward and company officials expect it to start operations in October.

One element that could have an impact on the future of Cohee's business is the building of the Brawley bypass, which would wrap Highway 111 around the north part of the city, where it would connect with Highway 86.

There are three routes the state Department of Transportation is considering for bypass, and one alternative would have the highway cut through the center of Cohee's business.

California Department of Transportation officials have said if that alternative is chosen, they would likely have to buy out Cohee's business.

A decision on a bypass route is expected to be finalized by mid-2002. Cohee has said he cannot wait for the state to choose a route. He said it could be years before Caltrans takes a step to purchase his business.

He said the beef plant could kill his business before Caltrans makes an offer to him.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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