SANTEE, Calif. -- As Santee celebrates the long-awaited completion of state Route 52, the city and CalTrans are preparing to fight a lawsuit brought by San Diego County.

The suit was filed in early February as part of an ongoing penalty dispute between the three sides.

Before the highway could be built through the center of Santee, homes were bought by CalTrans for demolition to clear a path for the project.

In 2008, three of the homes were used by the Santee Fire Department for roof ventilation training. But the houses contained asbestos. By law, the asbestos has to be removed before demolition or training.
Highway 52
CalTrans and San Diego county declined to comment on the issue.

Santee City Manager Keith Till said if he'd known about the asbestos, the firefighters would not have gone inside.

"It was quite some time later that it was brought to our attention," Till said.

The lawsuit claims Santee's former fire chief wrote to Till after the incident, "exposure was avoidable, unnecessary and should not have occurred."

In its claim, the county alleges that reports outlining asbestos in the homes were available for the city and state before the training took place.

52 exposure reports were written, but the city said none of the firefighters were harmed and the public was not at risk.

Till hopes the city avoids a severe fine.

"Regulations are designed to protect public safety," Till explained, "I would submit that any fines imposed on the city would detract from our ability to protect public safety."