Ventura County's chief administrator raised the possibility Tuesday that Southern Pacific railroad may not pay $717,000 in expenses the county and other local governments spent responding to the Seacliff derailment in July.
"I am concerned we are not going to collect . . . though they made some promises," Richard Wittenberg, the county's chief administrative officer, said at a Board of Supervisors meeting. "I asked for a meeting with SP, and it was too early in their view."
Southern Pacific spokesman Mike Furtney could not be reached Tuesday. But a top railroad official said last week that the company will pay the county's $572,104 claim and a $144,637 reimbursement requested by agencies from Ventura, Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Montecito and Los Angeles and Kern counties.
The railroad will pay the claims "in a timely manner," Herby L. Bart, director of Southern Pacific's emergency response program, told The Times.
Wittenberg said after Tuesday's meeting that his conversation with Southern Pacific took place before the county submitted its claims.
"I think it was appropriate that they didn't want to deal with us until our claims were filed," he said. Wittenberg said he plans to check with the railroad about payment in about a week.
More than 80% of the 370 claims filed by residents, businesses and workers against the railroad will be rejected, a spokesman has said. The railroad insists that it is not to blame because the derailment was caused by a broken axle on a leased freight car.
The railroad has paid most of the claims by homeowners and businesses who were close to the accident and were forced to evacuate or close down, a railroad spokesman has said.