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Citizen’s Workshop on Sewer Project

A citizen’s group formed over concerns with the City of Morro Bay’s sewer project is holding a public, community workshop to discuss the matter, amongst those who will have to pay for it.

Citizens for Affordable Living or C.A.L., is leading the workshop from 1-2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 10 at St. Peter’s by the Sea Church, 595 Shasta Ave., Morro Bay.

According to a public notice from the group, “C.A.L.’s purpose is to inform the community about the Water Reclamation Facility [new sewer plant] and the proposed upcoming [Proposition] 218 vote. A 218 vote asks the water and sewer ratepayers [owners/renters] permission to increase their rates to pay for a $167 million new facility and its operating costs. This is NOT a vote at the polls; it is a mail-in/drop-off statement that identifies your acceptance or rejection of the increase.”

C.A.L. started coming together last spring when new rates were revealed as a first step in a Prop. 218 vote to cover the sewer project’s costs, and the alarm raised when that minimum rate would be some $249 a month (more for high water users).

That led the City Council to ask a team of local sewer experts — volunteers from SLO County, City of SLO and Pismo Beach — to review the project and double check the cost estimates.

The estimates were in line, the panel said, but the cost of the project was too high, and the City should consider moving the project back to Atascadero Road, namely a defunct concrete batch plant owned by the City and adjacent to the maintenance yard and desalination plant.

That of course led to further delays as the City sought to study that possibility, which had also been promoted by a few local activists including some of the C.A.L. folks. But a letter from the Coastal Commission staff in Santa Cruz pretty much put the kibosh on that site, when they said they’d have a hard time recommending approval for any plant west of Hwy 1.

So last fall, the city council committed for sure to the South Bay Boulevard site, but for a scaled-down project at some $150 million and a plant that would be “reclamation ready.” The Council and project staff have marched forward with an extensive list of tasks since that time.

A contract was let for design of the needed conveyance system (pumps and pipes) to move the raw sewage from Atascadero Road through town to the new site. And a request for proposals has been released to three companies that passed an initial screening and showed interest in the project under a design-build contract (the company would both design and build the treatment plant).

And looming over all this is a mid-July deadline to apply for an $82 million, low-interest loan from the EPA under a special program promoting innovative solutions to water and wastewater issues.

But it all really hinges on that Prop. 218 vote on new rates, as to whether or not the City’s plans continue as they are now, or whether it has to come up with a less expensive project that ratepayers will support.

– By Neil Farrell

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