From bulldozers to helicopters, Boswell-Vidovich battles continue

March 22, 2022
by Lois Henry
An excavator stands guard in February on the Tulare Lake Canal banks to prevent a pipeline, seen on the right, from being trenched beneath the ditch. A judge ordered the equipment be removed on March 4. CREDIT: Lois Henry
Lois Henry

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An ongoing tiff over construction of a large water pipeline in Kings County has gone airborne, according to a lawsuit filed by Sandridge Partners.

Sandridge, controlled by John Vidovich, is accusing the J.G. Boswell Company of purposely “buzzing” cattle on its lands using a large helicopter. The actions have been ongoing since late January through the present, according to the lawsuit, and have endangered both animals and workers.

In an email, Vidovich described the helicopter as “…a massive 7 seater with BIG engines and they dusted the workers in the field. They were low and it was harassment.” Declarations filed in the case estimate the helicopter was flying at about the height of power poles, or 50 feet above the ground.

Jeoff Wyrick, a Boswell vice president, did not respond to an email seeking comment on this latest case.

Vidovich wrote that the flights, which he described as “continuous,” have terrified workers and caused significant damage. According to the lawsuit filed March 4, the cattle have become so frightened they’ve busted through multiple electric fences on several occasions. In one instance a calf got onto Highway 41 where it was killed by a passing tow truck.

On March 17, Kings County Superior Court Judge Valerie Chrissakis issued a temporary restraining order stating that Boswell must fly the helicopter in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration rules and in a manner that doesn’t cause harm to neighboring properties. The case is scheduled to go back to court May 5 for a preliminary injunction.

A screen shot from the ap FlightAware allegedly shows the path of a Boswell helicopter on Feb. 27. Stratford is the town along highway 41. Sandridge owns lands to the east of Stratford where it has a cattle operation and alleges Boswell was “buzzing” the animals with its helicopter. SOURCE: Declaration of Craig Andrew, Chief Operating Officer for Sandridge.

 

Why would Boswell allegedly buzz cattle on Sandridge land?

In retaliation for Sandridge building a large pipeline that needs to cross under the Tulare Lake Canal, which is controlled by Boswell, according to the March 4 lawsuit.

Boswell and Sandridge have been grappling in court over the pipeline since late January when Boswell bulldozers and trucks were parked on the canal banks to block the pipeline from cutting through the canal.

On March 4, the same day the cattle buzzing lawsuit was filed, Judge Chrissakis ordered construction on the line halted and the equipment removed from the canal banks.

The two sides are scheduled to return to court March 23 where Chrissakis will decide whether the Sandridge pipeline is subject to review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). If so, it would mean the pipeline would have to undergo a full blown environmental impact report, including multiple public hearings, which could delay its completion for months.

The 48-inch pipeline has been the subject of intense interest since last November when farmers and others noticed trenching for the line from near Lemoore heading south more than 10 miles to Stratford and then west toward the Blakelely Canal, which runs near the California Aqueduct.

There is concern that Sandridge intends to move water out of Kings County, possibly to Kern County or even further south. In fact, the attorney representing Boswell and theTulare Lake Canal Company has repeatedly questioned the purpose of the pipeline in court hearings.

Craig Andrew, the Chief Operating Officer for Sandridge, has said in a declaration that the line will be used to “transfer well water belonging to Sandridge Partners for irrigation purposes.” Water from Angiola Water District, where Sandridge is the majority landowner, will also be moved in the line, according to a declaration by Angiola General Manager Mark Grewal.

The line could potentially be used to house a secondary pipeline “sleeve” that could take sewage water from the small farming village of Stratford, which is one of the issues that could bring the line under CEQA scrutiny.

But that’s just the tip of the Vidovich-Boswell legal battles.

Vidovich has accused Boswell of selling off or transferring its State Water Project and Kings River supplies and continuing to farm using groundwater, which could cause more subsidence in a region that has already suffered significant sinking.

The Kings River Water Association, where Boswell is a major rights holder, is suing Tulare Lake Reclamation District 761, controlled by Vidovich, for shipping its Kings River water to the Dudley Ridge Water District in western Kings County. The association contends those lands aren’t in the river’s “service area.” A trial is set for December 2022.

Boswell and Vidovich are also on opposite sides of an attempt by Semitropic Water Storage District in Kern County to gain rights to Kings River flood water. The Kern water district has claimed rights holders in the Kings River Water Association aren’t fully using the water and has applied to the State Water Resources Control Board.

If it gets that flood water, Semitropic plans to store it on land owned by Vidovich near Kettleman City, between the Blakeley Canal and California Aqueduct. Semitropic has paid him $40 million for an easement and Vidovich would also get a cut of the flood water and be allowed to use the facilities to move groundwater, per the project contract. The state Water Board began holding hearings on that issue last June.

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.

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