Cayucos backs out of sewage plant deal with Morro Bay

May 4, 2015

morro bay plantFollowing a rift over plant ownership, the Cayucos Sanitary District has opted to scrap its plan to join the city of Morro Bay in building a new sewage treatment facility. [KSBY]

For the past 62 years, Morro Bay and Cayucos have jointly owned a wastewater treatment plant located in Morro Bay near the ocean. Morro Bay has a 60 percent stake in the plant, and Cayucos has 40 percent ownership.

In December, the Cayucos district board approved a joint powers agreement to build a new plant on a Chorro Valley ranch near Highway 41. The Morro Bay City Council selected the location for the new plant, which will cost approximately $75 million to build, after the California Coastal Commission rejected the city’s initial plan to reconstruct the existing facility.

On Thursday, the Cayucos board voted to pull out of the agreement with Morro Bay and to attempt to build its own sewage plant instead.

District General Rick Koon said Cayucos was not offered any ownership stake in or governance of the new plant. The district was asked to make a 28 percent capital investment, though, Koon said.

The Cayucos general manager said ownership of a new plant would allow the sanitary district to control its own rates.

Sewer bills for Morro Bay residents are expected to nearly double over the next four years. The Morro Bay Council approved the new rate structure, which includes an even larger increase in water bills, prior to Cayucos deciding to pull out of the wastewater plant project.

Morro Bay City Manger David Buckingham said he is disappointed Cayucos decided to suspend the partnership.


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I see in todays trib that a Linda Stedjee put an interesting letter to the editor about how Cayucos is bailing out of the setup with MB,for a change I would have to agree with Linda, MB should move on this project alone,now we don’t have to build as big a plant and most likely can rethink where we put it.

District General Rick Koon said Cayucos was not offered any ownership stake in or governance of the new plant. The district was asked to make a 28 percent capital investment, though, Koon said.

this must be a misquote as Cayucos was to have a 30% ownership, with representation accordingly, not a 50/50 voting ‘right’ , though. Please check your facts.

I may be wrong but this is the only sewage spill I can remember that threatened Morro Bay. And it came from CMC. Up hill from us!

CMC’s plant has had nothing but spills over the years,that had been one of the dirtest plants on the coast untill it was rebuilt a few years ago, and even today it still has problems.

The existing sewage plant in Morro Bay only treats its effluent to “Primary” levels of treatment, while all other sewage dischargers to the ocean (except Point Loma) are required Secondary treatment. Regulators have provided a waiver to Morro Bay, who is planning a Tertiary treatment and reclamation plant which is a wise move.

One could argue that with the waiver in place, it is the equivalent of Morro Bay and Cayucos having a sewage spill every day until their new plant goes online.

Financing costs will be much higher for Cayucos as they proceed independently. They will run into a brick wall with the Coastal Commission. They will never allow alternative treatment plans that utilize alternative types of waste water treatment. Then Cayucos will run into the EPA and the Interior Department, then NOAA. Dumping waste water into a National Marine Sanctuary is a complicated process. Cayucos will have to complete the process and build their system before Morro Bay shuts down the existing facility.

Morro Bay will not be able to shut down the current facility. Cayucos is a part owner of that property. Cayucos will still be using it 10-15 years from now and will be able to make all state and federal regulations because their flow will be so low,

Perhaps this is the wake-up call the community needs to realize the importance of who they vote into office. Seems interesting that most communities are striving for cooperation, economies of scale and collaboration while Morro Bay’s arrogant leadership is leading down an entirely different and extremely damaging path.

If you want to see arrogance, look no further than the CSD. They were going to pay a third of the cost, but wanted equal voting rights. They pushed hard for the outrageously-expensive and impractical CMC option and then wouldn’t pay for any of the cost of the study of that option. They claimed their little “technical memorandum” was a product equal to the studies performed by Morro Bay, and refused to pay their share of those studies too. Throughout the whole “partnership”, they argued about paying for maintenance for the existing plant. These people were never partners. They were an leeches.

We can only hope they’ll go their own way, but it seems unlikely. Meanwhile, since Morro Bay is at least temporarily rid of the CSD, the City can proceed without further encumbrance with a project that is right for Morro Bay taxpayers, who seem to be funding the whole thing anyway.


I hear your OPINION loud and clear on this, but I don’t believe it is fact.

There seems to be a Big Sneak to get the plant moved from where it is, I don’t know why, and perhaps you don’t know why (though you are doing an admirable job of carrying water for the decision makers).

There was a better-than-50/50 chance MB could have gotten a green light from the Coastal Commission to upgrade the plant in place.

What’s more, even if they had not approved it, MB could have asked for judicial intervention. This is a regular tactic used to remind the Coastal Commission when they overstep their bounds.

Your declaration that the current location can’t work is simply untrue.

Obviously, you have the community’s interests in mind. I’d like you to revisit your reasoning for poo-pooing the site that appears to make the most sense.

Unfortunately, my statements about the CSD are verifiable fact, not opinion. They have always tried to get out ot paying their share – it’s nothing new

As for the site, I wish as much as everyone else that the current site could have worked, but it’s just too risky. All up and down the coast, communities are moving their infrastructure away from the ocean to get it out of harm’s way.

Unfortunately for all of us, climate change and sea level rise are real. A new plant at the current site MIGHT be OK for a few years, but it has to last a lot longer than that. A flooded sewer plant would mean the community would quickly become uninhabitable.

Also, I did some research a few years ago into some work done for the City by a couple of consultants. I found that the work done to assess tsunami risk at the beach site was ridiculously inadequate and completely out of sync with the scientific studies done by Diablo Canyon – which gets a lot closer scrutiny by government agencies. As I recall, the difference in the maximum estimated tsunami run-up along the Central Coast was about 30 feet, with the Diablo Canyon estimate being the higher one. Flooding severity estimates also appeared to be understated, and dependent on things like the stability of the dunes, which are absolutely UNstable.

It has always appeared to me that if there is any “Big Sneak” involved in plant siting, it lies in the attempt to keep the plant on the beach. I have always believed that is tied to behind-the-scenes plans to develop power plant property, and to provide a supply of reclaimed water to support that development. I don’t believe anyone could make any money by moving the plant inland, as evidenced by the openness of the inland plant supporters to a variety of different sites. It just needs to be out of harm’s way.

Thank you for your measured response.

1) Since it’s not a nuclear power plant, there is no need for application of Nuclear Power Plant worst case scenarios. Unless, what you really want is ammo to harpoon a project.

2) I kinda doubt the un-known possible developers of the MBPP site would fight stridently to have a sewer plant in the heart of their view. Likely, they would be ardent supporters of cleaning the water offsite, then receiving credit for it to build their development.

Racket, I forgot to mention another issue with the plant at the beach. Unfortunately, the soil along the path of the big Atascadero Road sewer trunk line seems to be very unstable. In 1998, the line was found to be in such bad shape that the City declared a public health emergency and did major emergency replacement of some of the line. Two sinkholes opened up near the line. One was in front of the desal plant and one under a shed that was used by Rec and Parks.

A Trib article written at the time said the line collapsed. I have a memo that says that the line also had a major problem in the 1970’s. If that line collapses again, we could have a major public health emergency once more. Could it be fixed so it won’t collapse again? I don’t know, but when you have sinkholes appearing, it’s obviously a bad sign. I suppose it isn’t surprising so near to the ocean, where the water table is really high.

One could presumably throw considerable resources at armoring that short section of mainline, and still come out ahead of building a new plant.

That does not sound like a significant obstacle. That sounds like a rationalization for a foregone conclusion.

i know it’s a low blow, but Cayucos seems becoming more like Cambria every day.

This is just high pressure politicking by snit-fitting Cayucos. They’ll be back because no way can they afford to build a plant on their own — customers would be paying $500 or more a month if they did that, and the voters will not allow something like that to happen. Will they?

Don’t count on it. They got the same killer monthly fee passed in Los Osos. Maybe people in Cayucos are smart enough to avoid such a debacle.

the bottom line is that we can speculate all we want about what the coastal commission might have done, but we will never know because irons, christine johnson and smuckler refused to allow the project to be presented. yes the coastal commission staff recommended denial, but the deciding body NEVER got to hear a presentation. had irons, christine johson and smuckler actually lived up to what they campaigned on and allowed the project to be presented, and the coastal commission was allowed to hear the presentation and make a decision, then and only then could we say without a doubt that the project would have been denied. anything else is speculation. pure and simple. I will leave you with this website to take a look at a plant that was constructed, had the mb project moved ahead, we would likely be close to completion and beginning to plan for reclaimed water. as it is, we are decades and millions away from that. take a look

We do know what they would have done if the presentation in favor of the plant was made, because it was, and well before the meeting. Evidently some people have forgotten that Yates and his buddies hired a professional lobbyist to present and sell the project to the Commissioners. She did just that, and it cost taxpayers a pretty penny to have that person wine and dine the commissioners and talk up the idea of building the new plant at the beach. In the end, the Commissioners didn’t buy it.

Evidently some people have also forgotten what happened at the meeting. As reported in one Trib article, “Most of the commissioners praised Morro Bay for moving away from an ill-conceived project and proactively tackling issues, such as protecting water quality and preparing for sea level rise.” The article went on to describe some comments by the CCC Chair that were initially perceived by some to be hostile to the Mayor. However, Ms. Shallenberger subsequently wrote a letter clarifying her position.

She said, “I have become aware that my remarks at last January’s Coastal Commission hearing, at which the Coastal Commission denied the permit for the Morro Bay/Cayucos Wastewater Treatment Plant, are being cited in support of an effort to recall Morro Bay’s mayor. I am distressed to see my words mischaracterized so inappropriately.

At the time, I was frustrated that the commission was in the position of having to deny a project that should have been denied by the local government. The newly elected mayor was not to blame but bore the brunt of my frustration because he was representing the city at the hearing. True culpability lay with the former City Council majority and the city’s consultants, who advised the city to press ahead, at great expense to all concerned, with an ill-conceived project.

The commission made a fully informed decision, supported by your sitting mayor. Our staff recommended denial of the permit, and commissioners agreed because the project as designed clearly failed to meet the requirements of the California Coastal Act and Morro Bay’s Local Coastal Program.”

The mayor and current City Council should be commended for diligently acting on the strong message the commission sent: Alternative locations for the plant must be identified and thoroughly analyzed before seeking a Coastal Development Permit.

According to the CSD President, Susan McCabe told the JPA that October (2012) that she was confident they had six votes for approval, which would have meant a 6-5 vote in favor of the project.

The CCC chairwoman was one of the appellants, so her feelings were not a surprise and her mind most certainly was made up before the project hearing.So much for the law that requires boards like the CCC to guarantee a full and impartial hearing on any and all appeals.

So if Irons, Johnson and Smukler were going to fulfill cfampaign promises they’d made, they had to sabotage the project, and they did just that, passing a resolution to support the staff recommendation for denial, which contrary to what Irons tried to say the other night, is EXACTLY the same as askling for denial.

They also prohibited any City employees from speaking at the hearing and defending the project and fired McCabe, the consultants and the project manager. At best it was a forfeit.

They did this without conferring with their partners Cayucos beforehand, ignoring the CSD’s pleas to withdraw the project instead of seeking a denial.

That left Cayucos in an untenable position because they didn’t own the land the plant was being proposed for.

Mayor Irons may have thought he had the authority to speak for Morro Bay but he had zero authority to speak for Cayucos.Thus the resentment and sense of betrayal those folks have felt since that fiasco went down (along with just under half the residents in Morro Bay). So thus you see Cayucos severing ties with Morro Bay on this future project, goes back to that old project and the mistrust that has built ever since.

The council should have vigorously defended the project and if as they say the CCC was going to deny it anyway, they had nothing to lose, except the trust of a partnership that has been in place since the 1950s and helped Morro Bay build three sewer plants already.

That is the pinnacle of arrogance and foolhardiness, a huge mistake made by a rookie politician, who was manipulated by people in town with an agenda to sabotage everything and hopefully return to County control, which is looking better and bettr all the time.

But all that isancient history.

I figure Cayucos must have something up its collective sleeves. Some site or project thay haven’t talked about. I figure they might still go out to the CMC sewer.

They only produce half a million gallons a day, and that isn’t much at all. Where they intend to store the wastewater for future use, I can only guess in Whale Rock Reseroir. The town is a junior partner in the Whale Rock Agreement administered by the County Engineering, so that’s a possibility.

Cayucos is guaranteed 800 acre feet a year out of Whale Rock, even if its the last 800 a.f. left in the lake.Treating its WW and storing it there would make sense, especially since the County has the ability to pipe that water up to Santa Margarita Lake if needed, and even to Nacimiento Lake once the pipeline tie-in on top of the Grade is built.

Moving the water around will blend it with lake waters and they also have a treatment plant that can render it drinkable.

A half million gallons a day won’t require a very big plant at all. They might be able to get away with just building a couple of large holding tanks at the CMC site to store the WW until nightfall when flows drop way off and then treat it. I know they’ve looked at that possibility.

And the County wants to take over that plant so it can control the wastewater and send it to Whale Rock or Santa Margarita for storage. Remember the water coming to CMC, County Jails and Cuesta is State Water not local, so saving it would be a positive addition to the water supply in the reservoirs.

Niles said, “According to the CSD President, Susan McCabe told the JPA that October (2012) that she was confident they had six votes for approval, which would have meant a 6-5 vote in favor of the project.” Fascinating.

According to the Trib, ““Most of the commissioners praised Morro Bay for moving away from an ill-conceived project and proactively tackling issues, such as protecting water quality and preparing for sea level rise.” Furthermore, the vote to deny was unanimous. Did the lobbyist have 6 votes? Did she have ANY votes? Of course not. Why would a lobbyist claim to be making progress when it seems clear that there were in fact NO votes for the project? Interesting question, isn’t it.

You can try and spin it all you want but you cannot rewrite history. King Irons was told when he became Mayor that the City had the necessary votes to approve the project. McCabe had done her job. King Irons did not want the Commission to approve the project so he fired McCabe and passed the resolution in support of staff’s recommendation to deny the project. I have absolute proof this is the way it happen and you can try and spin it all you want, but it won’t make it so. King Irons was also told two years ago that CSD will try and stay at the current facility as part owner. Instead of listening to expert advice, in King Iron fashion, he did whatever he wants. King Irons has no moral or ethical compass.

thanks waiter for your accurate assessment. always nice to have some factual information on the board, especially when others continue to spew opinion and hyperbole.

This is exactly spot-on. The CCC pretty much ALWAYS recommends denial of a project. They expect, after the denial, a presentation to be made which details the project. Yes, it could be denied again, but then that decision can be appealed. This is called the “give and take” process of government, something that the Irons Regime will never understand. In their world, there are no negotiations, no cooperation, no concessions. It’s either their way or the highway. They don’t want the legal, moral, or ethical reasons why something can’t or shouldn’t be done. They don’t want to discuss. They don’t want to be partners. They want to bully, demand and force their ideas on others. Anyone who has worked for the City of Morro Bay, and now those who work for Cayucos, have come to realize this. Irons has cleaned out the experienced, cooperative, knowledgeable employees who used to work for Morro Bay and has replaced them with inexperienced, bull-headed, know-nothing shills, who only look for a paycheck and check their conscience at the door. By the way, Irons said, when he clumsily got rid of the City Manager and the City Attorney, that his reasons for his decisions would become clear “in the future”. I’m still waiting for that explanation.

Congratulations Cayucos on being able to identify the sham that the Morro Bay/Cayucos plan WAS! It’s too bad the residents of Morro Bay seemed so easily duped by their “Iron’s” fisted leadership which surely is doomed to fail.