With the recent $30 million court ruling against the Town of Mammoth Lakes, the Mammoth Town Council met Wednesday night to circle the wagons, figure out what to do next, and let the public know what this potentially expensive ruling could mean for the town.
Despite the Hot Creek judgment being roughly double the annual town general fund budget, town staff and council members did not appear panicked. With people worried that the town would go broke, Town Manager Rob Clark explained that there are state laws that make it difficult for a plaintiff to collect damages from the town.
Attorney Peter Tracy said that the plaintiff cant put a lien on public property and that the town wont start selling property to pay. Where the money would come from if the town has to pay is not set in stone. The method of payment simply has to be in good faith, Tracy explained.
When asked by members of the public how the $30 million in damages would affect the plan to bring commercial air service by December, Clark said that the Environmental Impact Statement and FAA certification of the airport are still on schedule. Construction on the terminal building and the new pavement on the runway are expected to continue as planned.
Town staff, the lawyers, and the council appear to still believe that they were right and that the judge gave the jury incorrect jury instructions, leading in turn to an incorrect decision.
Town Manager Clark recommended hiring a different legal team to come up with a second opinion. He also recommended that the town move ahead with an appeal in this case. The appeal process is expected to take a year and a half and no money has to be paid to Hot Creek unless the appeal comes back against the town.
Clark explained that the appeal carries high risks for both the town and Hot Creek so there should be a side effort to try to reach a settlement agreement. Settlement negotiations have not been fruitful in the past, Clark said, though he has seen encouraging signs more recently.
Settle, win on appeal, or pay up in the end, however this turns out, town staff and the council have a lot of weighty decisions to make before this financial black cloud clears up.