Fines, lawsuits contaminate old partnership

Two properties south of Humboldt Road and split by Stilson Canyon Road have turned a once-prosperous business partnership into an ugly court battle and led to a quarter-million in fines from the state.

The Drake-Simmons land holdings are part of the now infamous Humboldt Dump properties that were, for the most part, cleaned up this summer by the city and property owner Tom Fogarty for development. All, that is, except for the Drake-Simmons 17-plus acres.

The late Dan Drake and partner James Edward Simmons owned the two parcels when the city extended Bruce Road in 1987 from Highway 32 to Humboldt. The work on that road required the removal of what turned out to be contaminated soil from the old city/county burn dump that stopped operations in 1965.

The city contracted Baldwin Construction for the job and the excavated soil, for the most part, was deposited on property directly adjacent to the extension. The contract specified that the disposal of the soil was the responsibility of Baldwin.

As the work progressed, Simmons granted Baldwin permission to dispose soil from the project on his property in order to build a stock pond for his horses. But neighbors who lived in nearby Stilson Canyon noticed the soil used for the stock pond contained bottles and metal and other products consistent with a dump. They complained and the Regional Water Quality Control Board took samples of the soil.

Tests revealed the stock pond soil contained high levels of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (produced by burning creosote, crude oil and roofing tar), copper, chromium, lead and other metals. This led to the 25-year process of figuring out who was responsible for cleanup and how the entire area would be cleansed. That process also revealed that a second Drake-Simmons property next to the stock pond was once the site of a battery recycling facility.

In June 1994 Simmons agreed to reimburse Drake $89,946 for cleanup costs on the property and ongoing costs for further remediation of the land. By January 2001, Drake had created the Drake Revocable Trust, which made his wife Virginia co-owner of the property. Drake died 10 months later.

Virginia Drake filed a civil suit against Simmons in March 2003 in an effort to partition her properties—she now owned half-interest in the land once called the Simmons Ranch.

During their relationship, Drake and Simmons had sold portions of the ranch—including acreage to the city that was added to Bidwell Park—for a total of $5 million.

In a letter dated Jan. 7, 2003, Ed Simmons told Drake’s attorney that he strongly disagreed with the Drake assertion that “the continued relationship between the joint owners is no longer viable.”

“For heavens to Betsy,” he wrote, “please don’t suggest to Ginger that she must have a viable relationship with me.”

He ends the letter: “If my approach to this issue of partition won’t fit your pistol, then come on up to Chico and I will buy lunch, we can then continue to have fun kicking this dead horse.”

Last month the state Regional Water Quality Control Board issue a notice to Drake that she had failed to comply with cleanup orders—according to the board, she told Simmons she would arrange for the cleanup.

Now Drake has the choice of either paying the fines by Oct. 24, or failing that, attending a hearing with the board at the end of November to present her side. Her civil suit against Simmons is scheduled to go to court next February.