Hinkley reacts to buyout
PG&E tries to correct problem by buying affected homes
It's been 18 years since PG&E settled with residents of Hinkley in a groundwater contamination lawsuit made famous by the film "Erin Brockovich."
Today the community is still dealing with the groundwater contamination that has grown to a two-by-one mile radius.
PG&E’s latest move to correct the problem: buyout affected homes, provide free bottled water, or offer whole house conversion systems has resulted in 200 residents showing interest in a buyout, approximately 40 percent of the small town’s households.
With so many considering the property purchase program, members in the community wonder what will happen next to the tiny town.
“We’re living, paying the bills,” said Tony Owens, manager of Riley’s Place, the only bar in Hinkley and a favorite of locals and passersby on the highway. He said he thinks the buyouts will hurt everyone in town, “Hinkley’s going to be a ghost town,” Owens said.
At the only market and gas station in town, owner Ali Abuhantash said he’s not sure if he’ll close down. Abuhantash is originally from Jordan and has owned and operated Hinkley’s Market for the past 13 years with his wife and children, although the market has been in business for more than 50 years.
“We are slow now, we’re barely paying the bills, but when those people move that’s when my problems start,” Abuhantash said. He said he’ll begin to assess his circumstances come December or January after those who have decided on a buyout have left.
“The problem is when PG&E buys a house they destroy it. They don’t clean it and rent it again. That’s it,” he said.
Jeff Smith, a spokesman for PG&E said that the company is committed to the community and that they are trying to provide solutions to two groups of people, those who want to leave and those who want to stay.
“Our goal is that there continues to be a Hinkley and we want to support those who want to stay in the community,” he said. As far as what will happen to those homes that are bought out he said, “It really depends on the circumstances, in some instances we’ve kept the houses, it just depends on the condition they’re in.”
At Hinkley Elementary School administrators are in the process of looking at how many school aged children will be affected. Right now there are only about 300 students at the school, but 55 come from outside the area because of the school’s academic reputation. Barstow school board member Julie Clemmer said previously she believes the school is the heart and soul of the community.
“I hope we can do whatever it takes to keep the school open,” she said.