Facing allegations by city inspectors that it illegally dumped 21 million gallons of wastewater, Portland Bottling Co. has hired a lawyer familiar with fighting City Hall: John DiLorenzo.
DiLorenzo, a Portland lawyer and lobbyist who once mulled a run for governor, is currently representing utility ratepayers in a $127 million
lawsuit against the Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services.
Portland Bottling hired him after receiving $449,916 in bills and fines
from the environmental services bureau on June 19—the largest penalty in bureau history.
DiLorenzo is already questioning the timing of the city's investigation into the biggest donor to a failed ballot measure that would have removed water and sewer utilities from City Hall control.
"We will aggressively defend the case," says DiLorenzo. "We are also very skeptical of the timing of this particular action."
Portland Bottling was the single largest contributor to Ballot Measure 26-156—an effort to wrest the water and environmental services bureaus from City Hall. It funded the campaign while facing allegations of illegally diverting wastewater around the meter for five years.
WW first reported the allegations in today's edition.
DiLorenzo suggests the timing of the city's investigation—which began last November—looks like political retribution.
"It's interesting that it would be brought up now," DiLorenzo says.
City Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees BES, says inspectors began closely examining Portland Bottling's discharge last fall because they saw a disparity between how much water was going in to Portland Bottling and how much wastewater is typically drained by bottlers.
He says inspectors didn't notice the gap until last year because Portland Bottling used less water during the recession.
Fish says he was aware of the investigation during the campaign on Measure 26-156, but did not involve himself in the process. He points to the alleged dumping dating back five years, and the fine being sent after Election Day, as evidence the city wasn't engaged in political warfare.
"We took great pains to keep the politics out of the regulator enforcement action," says Fish. "Our enforcement system heavily relies on trust. We cannot get in the bowels of every large industrial water user and track every drop that comes in and comes out. This is a significant breach of trust."