State’s ruling on sewage spill delayed
September 8, 2012
By KAREN VELIE
At the end of an almost 16 hour hearing that started on Friday, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board decided to delay making its decision on whether a 2010 raw sewage spill in Oceano was the result of mismanagement or the weather.
Following the spill, the water board’s enforcement team proposed a $1.4 million fine. State investigators contend South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation plant administrator John Wallace and his private engineering firm The Wallace Group’s failure to properly repair and maintain equipment at the plant caused the spill.
Sanitation district officials claim that extremely wet weather in conjunction with a tripped electrical breaker in a supposedly waterproof housing caused the plant’s intake pumps to fail and sewage to pour out.
Testifying for the sanitation district, Bill Thoma from Thoma Electric said there had been no problems at the plant before the December 2010 event. Thoma said much of the plant’s older wiring had been replaced in the 1980s and that the existing wiring was adequate.
Former plant superintendent Jeff Appleton, who was subpoenaed by the prosecution team to testify about the spill, said that he had told both Wallace and the board that outdated wiring had led to two fires and needed to be repaired. Appleton said he took a handful of burnt wiring to a board meeting in an attempt to get it repaired.
“Wallace would tell me, ‘We are continuing to look into it from an engineering standpoint,’ ” Appleton said. “No work was actually done.”
At 1:20 a.m. on Saturday, board members decided to end the meeting because of the late hour. They plan to meet on Oct. 3 to deliberate and make a ruling.