Morro Bay Council rejects proposed sewer plant

January 4, 2013


UPDATE: Morro Bay City Attorney Rob Schulz said Morro Bay is not pulling its application, it is asking that the Coastal Commission deny the application.

At a highly contentious special meeting, the Morro Bay City Council voted 3-2 Thursday evening to withdraw its application to build a new sewer plant at the site of the current plant.

For years, officials in Morro Bay have worked to rebuild the city’s nearly 60-year-old sewage-treatment plant. Last year, the Coastal Commission said it wanted the city to move the plant a mile from the coastline.

Morro Bay’s former council argued that such a move would add up to seven years to the three-year project and 50 percent more to its estimated $60 million cost which could double sewer bills.

Prior to the November election, four of the council members were against moving the plant or terminating the three consultants hired through an agreement with the Cayucos Sanitary District. Now, the council has three members in favor of withdrawing its permit approval application with the Coastal Commission while the city looks into its options.

Approximately 100 people attended the meeting with most asking that the plant get moved from its current beachfront location and many wanting the three consultants promoting the project terminated.

Morro Bay and Cayucos Sanitary District entered into agreements with Dennis Delzeit for project management services for a total of $253,000,with Dudek for alternative analysis reports is for a total of $455,642 and with McCabe to seek favor with the Coastal Commission for a total of $155,000.

It is unclear if the project manager Dennis Delzeit works for Wallace and the Wallace Group or if Wallace is working for Delzeit. Nevertheless, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has accused Wallace of criminal acts in his administration of the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District and said it is asking the attorney general to conduct an investigation.

While Mayor Jamie Irons voted to pull the permit application, he elected to change the wording from termination to suspension in the resolution on the three consultant contracts noting that he is a friend of John Wallace.

“I respect John Wallace; he is a decent man,” Irons said.

Dennis Delzeit also said he was aware of the allegations of criminal acts against Wallace, but not concerned.

Councilman Noah Smukler said he wanted the three contracts terminated, as opposed to suspended, partly because of Wallace’s involvement.

Members of the Cayucos Sanitary District said they were unable to attend because of holiday scheduling conflicts. So, even though the Morro Bay City Council voted to withdraw its permit application, the co-application by Cayucos will go in front of the commission as planned. In addition, even though Morro Bay has suspended its consultant contracts, Cayucos contracts with the consultants are ongoing.

Mayor Irons along with council members Christine Johnson and Noah Smukler voted in favor of canceling the permit application while suspending the consultant’s contracts while council members George Leage and Nancy Johnson angrily dissented.

In 2003, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board informed Cayucos and Morro Bay that they would have to upgrade their plant by March 2014 or face penalties. Opponents of pulling the permit application contend doing so will make it impossible to get a new plant constructed by the deadline.

Nancy Johnson said the vote to pull the Coastal Commission permit application could result in legal issues with Cayucos.

“For better or for worse, the three of you own the project,” she said.


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Build it in Los Osos.

To continue…

The city council, which is the lead agency in the permitting of this project, approved an EIR and the coastal development permit back in late 2010. The CPD was appealed by a dozen or more people but the EIR was never challenged. So this project has an approved EIR on it, which isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on at this point.

The only chance the project has is if the commissioners find that the change in the project description was wrong and this is indeed an upgrade of an existing project. And at this point in the saga, that’ll happen when pigs fly.

So where do we go from here? The JPA has to start over from the beginning. First up will be a siting analysis — where will we build a new plant? Included in that will be what are the plans for the wastewater because that will determine in great part where to put the plant.

Then, what technology should be used? How will we discharge the excess wastewater that farmers can’t use.

How do we get a right of way from Caltrans (if the plant goes on the Righetti Ranch property) and can we annex that land from the County, which would greatly simplify the permitting process?

Morro Bay had its sphere of influence stripped by LAFCo., several years ago and has no authority right now to annex anything.

Then we have to buy or take the property from the Righetti Family. (They have it listed for $2.4 million, but the alternative sites analysis placed the value at $7.4 million).

There is also a citizen’s initiative on the books that requires a vote of the people before ANY land can be annexed. The city attorney says this is unenforceable but I’d bet a Wall Street bonus that someone still tries.

With a blank canvas to work with, the question of the best technology will rise up too.

We need a discharge system in place and it would be cheapest to use the existing ocean outfall, but there are people here who will fight that tooth and nail.

We could move the plant out to Chorro Valley and discharge into Chorro Creek, which would theoretically raise the creek level above the limits the State Water Board placed on the city’s drinking water wells out there. It wouldn’t be a direct reuse of the waste water but would give the city the ability to tap those water wells once again and provide another 900 or so acre feet of water anytime we needed it.

Of course this wouldn’t provide any benefit for Cayucos residents. They would get to help pay for all this but not get any benefit.

Also, the rules on discharges into creeks and such could change in the future, so tertiary treatment might not be good enough at some point in the future, which would require some kind of additional up grade.

This is all just scratching the surface of this mess. I haven’t even mentioned that the treatment plant staff thinks it’ll cost between $16-$30 million in necessary repairs to keep the current plant running for another 10 years while this new plant is being planned, designed and built.

It’s too bad the JPA’s initial project got derailed in the first place. Had none of this happened, the plant would be about half way built by now.

Yes, but!! as with any project within the Coastal zone or Coastal Commissions’ “sphere of influence” you must first find out what the Coastal Commission wants and then do exactly that. I don’t like it , but that is the reality we live in with the current commissions power.

Not sure the Righetti Ranch would be within the coastal zone, it is after all a mile or so past the city limits and well away from the coast.

Of course, if the JPA uses the existing collection system which all drains down to the current plant and divert the waste water stream from there, at least part of the project would still be in the coastal zone.

I doubt very much that the Coastal Commission is interested in designing a project for us. That’s not their expertise or within their authority. They would have to take the risk of “errors and omissions” like professional engineers have, place their professional reputations on the line.

What they may do is send a set of criteria to the JPA that spells out what they don’t want to see and then it’ll be up to the JPA to hire engineers and planners to put together a project. But I would be surprised if they even did that as well.

If I were the JPA, I’d insist on a development agreement with the Coastal Commission that locks in the rules and regulations now, for a project that the Commission may not see for 5-10 years. That’s the only way to avoid making this same mistake again.

Who knows what requirements will be in place in 10 years? No one, not even the Coastal Commission. I don’t know if it would be possible to get a development agreement out of the Coastal Commission, but the JPA should refuse to move forward with a project until it gets one.

This whole project just became 10 times more complicated, it will end up costing our communities double what it’s supposed to cost now ($69 million over 30 years).

Just once I’d like to see a state agency’s No. 1 priority be to consider what the cost to taxpayers will be, before they go off and write new policies and regulations based on a political philosophy.

And rest assured, this project has been decided entirely on the basis of a political agenda.