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‘Tentative' agreement in Brawley beef plant lawsuit

May 05, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

Brawley business owner Darwin Cohee and the owners of the under-construction beef plant in Brawley have reached what attorneys for both sides deemed a "tentative" resolution to the ongoing court battle over the project.

At 2:30 p.m. Friday attorneys met in Superior Court in the County Courthouse in El Centro for what was to be a showdown on the merits of Cohee's case against the beef plant project.

Instead, attorneys asked for a half-hour delay and went behind closed doors to discuss the case.

When they emerged at 3 p.m., there was a brief meeting with Judge Jeffrey Jones, who then announced the hearing on the case would be delayed until July 3.

While neither side would discuss the issue in detail, attorneys did make brief statements outside the courtroom.

"The matter has been tentatively resolved," said William Koska, the attorney representing Cohee.

B.P. Ventures attorney Steve Shadle agreed, stating there could be a settlement.

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Between now and the July 3 hearing date both sides will meet to try to finalize a settlement.

However, attorneys for both sides emphasized the word "tentative," indicating there still is much work to do before a final agreement is reached.

The lawsuit stems from Cohee's concern that traffic brought by the opening of the beef plant could hurt or even kill his business. Cohee owns La Bolsa Inc., a soil-reclamation business that has been on Shank Road since the 1970s.

Cohee declined to comment about Friday's hearing, stating instructions from the judge kept him from commenting.

The beef plant, which will employ 600 full-time workers when it opens toward the end of October, is being built on Shank.

Cohee has argued traffic studies done for the plant have not adequately addressed the effect new traffic brought by the facility would have on Shank.

Cohee has said he supports the building of the beef plant but has insisted city officials have not listened to his concerns.

He voiced those concerns to the city Planning Commission before it opted to award a permit to allow work on the beef plant to start.

Cohee filed an appeal with the City Council asking that it rescind the construction permit awarded by the commission. When the council did not, Cohee filed his lawsuit.

Officials with the city and with B.P. Ventures have argued the traffic study has shown traffic brought by the beef plant will not require any upgrades to Shank.

They have added while the plant will create 600 jobs, that does not mean there will be 600 vehicles traveling past Cohee's business at the start or the end of the day.

Part of Cohee's concern is trucks would not be able to turn into or leave his business as a result of such traffic.

Neither attorneys for Cohee nor B.P. Ventures would elaborate after Friday's hearing on how they would resolve Cohee's concerns.

Local officials interviewed Saturday said they are pleased to hear the issue may be settled.

"A settlement would benefit everyone," said Brawley City Councilwoman Jo Shields, who added settling the matter would allow B.P. Ventures to focus on finishing the work on the multi-million dollar project.

Brawley Mayor Wayne Johnson said, "If Mr. Cohee feels this will resolve his concern about his loss of business, then I'm glad to see this resolved."

He added, "We need to get on with business and forget all these little obstacles."

Johnson expressed concern about any cost the city might face should a settlement be reached.

He suggested one step the city might take if there is a traffic concern is to have a police officer provide traffic control at the start and end of business days on Shank Road.

Johnson said one point to remember is there is a chance Cohee's business will be bought out by the state Department of Transportation as the proposed Highway 111 bypass project moves forward.

He said if that were to happen it wouldn't make sense for the city to spend money now on upgrading Shank.

It might make more sense to have a police officer provide traffic control until Caltrans acts on the Highway 111 bypass, Johnson said.

William Brandenberg, a Calexico-based rancher and co-owner of B.P. Ventures, said "My feeling all along was that it would be resolved."

He added, "If it's just a traffic issue you can resolve it."

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

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