State’s ruling on sewage spill delayed

September 8, 2012

John Wallace


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subpoenaed by the prosecution team to testify about the spill, said that he had told both Wallace and the board that outdated wiring had led to two fires and needed to be repaired.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.


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As I believe Julie Thacker said in her two-minute comment, Thoma’s son is also currently connected to Wallace such that the son benefits from continuing his relationship to Wallace.

Thoma should have been declared by the WRAC an unacceptable witness due to the major conflicts of interest. It will be interesting to see if WRAC actually mans up and does what is right.

Thoma was the SSLOCSD’s only wtness. WRAC had many, including Appleton.

That in itself is surprising, considering the number of subcontractors around the county that are beholding to Wallace.

The District is owned by the residents of Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, and Oceano. So we are the District.

We, the District, pay the State Water Resources’s team (a cast of 20 or more attorneys, investigators, and “expert” witnesses) to prosecute us.

We pay the San District’s team (more attorneys and expert witnesses) to defend us.

We pay the Water Board member’s and their attorney to determine whether we are fined.

Many of us at the hearing lost up to a full day’s pay by attending the hearing which started at 8 a.m. and went well beyond 9 p.m.,

Many of us in Oceano have already suffered heavy financial losses because of the flooding.

Now, we’re faced with sewer service increases or a reduction in our hard earned funds in order to pay a fine to go to the State coffers.

Is this a Seinfeld episode or government bureaucracy gone amok, or what?

It’s ironical that County Public Works and State Parks isn’t held accountable for it’s lack of maintenance of the Meadow Creek Lagoon and culverts and ditches, and it’s incompetent control of the flood gates that led to the flooding of the Sanitation Plant.

State Water Resources members: take off your blinders and do a comprehensive investigation of the flooding issue, instead of your “witch hunt” against the Sanitation District.

Joe Schacherer

Sanitation Districts are the cash crapp for the SRWQCB, another Federally type arms of the law, low funding plus all they can generate (thieve). A necessary but abusive evil, just think of all the sanitation districts, then surprize one slips by and $$$$$$$.

You make some good points, however don’t forget your also the ones who have sat on your duffers for years now and not demanded Wallace be ousted or placed on admin leave as administrator until this was sported out. Like any other crooked politician voted in, vote him out of you don’t like it. You have no one to blame but yourselves for the position your held in and don’t tell me you attended all the Board meetings because Ive attended most and typically NOBODY shows up.

Far as how late it went it was 1:00am Sat morn. Had you stick around to hear closing arguments you would have heard Ms. Macedo make a point of holding Wallace and the Wallace Group liable for the fine as should be, not the public.

I truly feel sorry for those who’s homes were damaged with sewage. Wallace’s Aaron Yonkers went on for what must have been an hour telling numerous good faith measures to assist the residents and flooded homes with clean up,out reach programs etc, however when asked for specifics could not actually produce one shred of evidence or prove a red cent spent by either Wallace, the WG or the Dist.

I agree with you; however, one of my points is that County Public Works and State Parks should be held accountable for their lack of maintenance over the years. The flooding of the plant and the neighborhood was caused by many reasons. How convenient for County Public Works and State Parks that all fingers are now pointing to the Sanitation District; yet very little is being done to solve the flooding issues. The plant and the neighborhood will flood again. This hadn’t been the situation in prior years when proper maintenance of the lagoon was performed.

We think there is a pretty simple answer to this issue. The former plant supt appleton testified about it.

The District’s Waste Discharge permit requires that all facilities are capable of withstanding a “100 year event” flood level.

The Dec 2010 was nowhere near a “100 year flood level”.

John Wallace, as District Administrator and District Engineer failed to fulfill his obligations, even when he was previously forwarned by plant staff.

Doesn’t really matter what happened with the county, that issue is secondary, at best.

What matters is that the person responsible for the spill has, and continues, to charge approx $80,000 /month ($1,000,000 annually) to the ratepayers.

We agree with what another poster commented on. If the south county ratepayers are stupid enough to continue electing politicians that allow this to happen, then they deserve just what they get.

When will the community come together and demand that this situation be addressed?

You keep saying “we”… just wondering who “we” are?

p.s. not asking philosophically, but literally.

especially funny considering your posting name!

Do some research and I’ll bet you find that the Wallace group was who initially designed the Oceano flood control system.

Mr. Schacherer was very busy in the crowd trying to convince the residents who want to speak that if they were in favor of the fine it would increase the sewer rates. This may be true, but not if John Wallace is found criminally negligent for failing to address the known electrical issues.

That outcome might result in him (Wallace) paying all the fine $, as well as spending time in jail. The homeowners could then all file a class action suit against Wallace and once and for all put him out of business.

If you don’t like it, raise hell there. I wish I could give Doggin’s post a million thumbs up because he hit the nail on the head.

Back in 2010 NONE of you went to SSLOCSD board meetings to monitor your elected reps even at the urgings of the local newpapers and CalCoastNews. The District was trying to, let’s be honest, fire a whistleblower. You let it happen.

Then there were claims that Appleton and Wallace were running the plant with “fraud and deception.” Still none of you cared enough to show up.

Then they tried to fire another employee whistleblower. Still nothing.

There were articles in both CCN and the Trib that Wallace et al falsified the spills amounts.There was talk of potential fines. WHat did the citizens do? Nothing. Again.

But wait… The Water Board is now getting serious and 150 of you showed up at the hearing on Friday. GOOD FOR YOU. GLAD TO SEE YOU CARE ENOUGH TO DO SOMETHING.

But honestly, as far as the fines go, it’s too little too late, ratepayers.

But here’s a newsflash for you, ratepayers: I don’t need a crystal ball to tell me that if YOU don’t kick the likes of Ferrara and Nichols and Wallace out of office, this is all going to start over again. Because those three have each other’s back. It’s us against them. So use your vote and your VOICE and go to the board meetings and get these apparent crooks out of office.

Well said! You would think that our news media would look as to why State Highway 1 did not flood in 2010!

When the law suits become ‘fashionable’ put Thoma Electric on the short list of deep pockets.

There is a lot to the flooding of the west side of Oceano leading directly to the County of San Luis Obispo! The RWQCB has been provided all documents showing the County’s fault!

Look at the Thoma Electric website and the archive of jobs completed. Many of those projects have been done in connection with Wallace. Thoma’s business connections with Wallace Engr.. have probably resulted in building contracts in this county. Does that give you the answer as to who is probably lying?

Thoma says the wiring was “adequate”, yet it failed and the spill occurred. There’s another big hint that Thoma was either wrong in his accessment of the wiring, or he is lying to protect his buddy, Wallace.

I seriously doubt that Thoma is going to lie and jeopardize his good reputation and business. A business that has been successful for over 50 years does so by being honest, ethical and by knowing their business.

It always amuses me that the people that cry out the most about people being liars or dishonest are the ones are that way themselves. Just sayin’

I would agree on a level playing field, but we all know when it comes to the government, contracts, and deals it is anything but a level playing field

what exactly does that mean… “a level playing field”. And who decides what is fair?

what happened to life liberty, and the PURSUIT of happiness? not guaranteed, not leveled, but based on merit. Some people are smarter, luckier, or prettier. So let’s keep them back! They don’t deserve what they earned.

We are all created equally, but uniquely different. We all need to be held accountable for our actions- whether good or bad. Does this mean success looks the same for everyone?

Not to say I disagree with the government being corrupt, but I have issues with that term.

Thoma testified and “declared” the wiring was fine at the plant, yet in the 05/06 San Dist Budget Wallace himself budgeted $200,000 to start a wire upgrade because of fires and shorts and later in the 09/10 I believe another $500,000. So which one is it, Somebody lying perhaps? Isn’t it funny how every contractor or investigator Wallace hires say’s he’s innocent yet every non Wallace funded entity or agency who investigated him found him guilty as alleged.

BTW Tom Zehnder, Wallace Group COO told the San Dist staff Thoma was his high school buddy and at the hearing it was said the current Plant Supers kid works for Thoma.

Wow am I confused; there are two opposing views here, one by Jeff Appleton that the wiring was bad, needed to be replaced and the sanitation district effectively waved him off and NOT doing anything about the wiring, and then there is testimony by Bill Thoma stating that the wiring HAD been replaced back in the ’80s and was still “adequate”. Does that mean someone is lying? I don’t know Mr. Thoma, by all regards his electrical business operates at a very high level of quality, so if he has “fudged” the truth about the wiring, why would he do that? Is he friends with John Wallace? Should his testimony be suspect and therefore audited by having an independent contractor or inspector verify his viewpoint? If it comes down to having to pick one person’s words over the others, shouldn’t a third, neutral, party be required to give their view of how the spill happened?

Thoma has done MANY, MANY projects in conjunction with Wallace Group. If the wiring was adequate, why did it fail?

Appleton testified that he specifically informed Wallace and the Board of Directors about the faulty condition of the electrical system.He stated that he “sent emails with pictures”. He stated he took pieces of burned wire to the Board meetings and show it to the Directors.He stated that the Board of Directors would visit the plant annually, during the Major Budget item review process, and he would have the electrical boxes open so Wallace, Nicolls, and Ferraro could see the condition and that he and his staff would stress the need to address the electrical issues. He stated that he sent an email and warned specifically that the electrical box was in a low spot and that that if it flooded, the influent pumps might short out (which is exactly what happened).

He also specifically testified that “the only work that ever happened was that John Wallace and his Staff would do another engineering report”.

Sounds Appleton and his staff did what they could, and what he was “allowed” to do. Since the whole series of allegations started it’s been suspected that Appleton was just another Wallace patsy and would go along in the cover up. We’re still not sure he’s entirely clean, but he did seem to offer some pretty convincing testimony and he certainly didn’t hold back from throwing Wallace and the Board of Directors under the bus. Gotta give him two thumbs up for that.

On a side note, were we the only ones who noticed Grover Beach Mayor ProTem/Sanitation District Board of Directors Chairperson Bill Nicolls nodding off during the recent Water Quality Hearing? At one point his chin collapsed all the way to his chest and he appeared to be snoring.

Considering Appleton is a known liar, and the fact that the proceedings went on for 16 hours into 1:30 am…. I’m pretty sure Mr. Nicolls was not the only one to nod off….