Oceano seawater intrusion deemed a scam
February 13, 2012
By KAREN VELIE
San Luis Obispo County government agencies have been using data known to be phony to secure state and federal grants.
Following a 2009 report of seawater intrusion contaminating the unincorporated community of Oceano’s groundwater supply, numerous local agencies used the information to apply for federal and state funding or to legitimize high-dollar water projects.
However, for more than a year, Oceano Community Services District board members have been saying reports of seawater intrusion are nothing but propaganda.
During last Wednesday’s board meeting, directors penned a letter to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors asserting that there is no truth to the allegation of seawater intrusion in Oceano.
“The level of exploitation of this anomaly has reached critical mass and is being quoted from everything from commercial development, other agency needs and willful suspensions of the truth,” the letter says.
In 2009, John Wallace, owner and president of the Wallace Group, a private engineering consulting firm, was paid to oversee the monitoring of the Sentry Well in Oceano. Wallace then reported that the testing well was contaminated by seawater intrusion.
“At the time that this Sentry Well was tested, there were significant external contaminates,” the district letter says. “The board at the time was directed by its contracted engineer (Wallace) to take a position that the event was actually a benefit because it would elevate the priority level in case of any state water contractor allocation cutbacks.
“The same engineer is on contract with several San Luis Obispo agencies, which (have exploited) this information to their benefit.”
Shortly after Wallace first made his claim of seawater intrusion, critics argued that because the well’s seal was broken, and it was located behind a liquor store in an area where vagrants were known to gather, the contamination was more likely the result of urination and debris.
In early 2010, the district had the seal repaired and further testing of the well demonstrated that there was no contamination and no seawater intrusion.
Nevertheless, the allegations became the basis for requests for government monies including Proposition 84 funds, Department of Water Resources Local Groundwater Assistance program, and United States Geological Survey Water Management Plan.
In early November, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission approved a project citing the issue of seawater intrusion in Oceano. Concurrently, in Nipomo the false allegation of seawater intrusion was used to promote a $26 million pipeline project.
On Nov. 9, the Oceano Community Service District board discussed the issue of seawater intrusion being used as propaganda throughout the county. Board members then instructed District Manager Tom Geaslan to assemble a brief history of the issue in order to put the false claim to rest.
Instead, Geaslan signed a letter on Nov. 30 along with representatives from Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach and the Nipomo Mesa that requested funding to implement groundwater management activities because of seawater intrusion into their collective basin.
Meanwhile, the Oceano Community Service District board was pressuring Geaslan to prepare a letter to the SLO County Board of Supervisors explaining the claim of seawater intrusion was untrue.
And while the issue of the letter was listed on the Jan. 25 agenda, Geaslan again failed to produce the letter and claimed the district’s computers had been hacked.
“Our server has been hacked, our website has been hacked, my personal computer has been hacked,” Geaslan said at the meeting.
However, sources inside the district contend the district’s computer system froze and just needed to be reset and that Geaslan deleted several files in an attempt to promote his notion that the computers had been hacked.
Two weeks later, at the board’s Feb. 8 meeting, Geaslan again failed to produce the requested letter.
Geaslan did, however, admit to the board that he had signed a separate letter in November which claimed Oceano’s ground water was endangered because of seawater intrusion. He explained the letter was used in an attempt to get a portion of an $8.5 million dollar surplus in funding from the Nacimiento water project. He noted the letter was supposed to have been kept out of the public’s view.
“I resisted signing, but I wanted to be a team player,” Geaslan said during the meeting. “I’m kinda falling on my sword here. In retrospect I probably should have stuck to my guns and not signed.
“I need to point out that this did manifest itself into somewhat of a good way and because we all did band together and used that to go after the $200,000 that we are trying to get from the WRAC (Water Resources Advisory Council).”
During a break in the meeting, board President Matt Guerrero took upon himself the task of writing the letter notifying county leaders that claims of seawater intrusion in Oceano are untrue. Guerrero then instructed Geaslan to deliver the letter to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.
Geaslan was the campaign manager for San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Paul Teixeira. His wife, Deb Geaslan, is the legislative assistant to Teixeira.