Morro Bay City Council pulls support for sewer plant site

New council reverses course, asks Coastal Commission to deny rebuilding application

dsneed@thetribunenews.comJanuary 5, 2013 

The wastewater treatment plant in Morro Bay, shown in 2006.

THE TRIBUNE

A newly seated majority of the Morro Bay City Council has withdrawn its support for the city’s controversial sewage-treatment plant rebuilding project.

At a special meeting Thursday, the council voted 3-2 to send a resolution to the state Coastal Commission urging that the agency deny the city’s coastal development permit to rebuild the plant. The commission will hear the permit issue when it meets Thursday in Pismo Beach.

Morro Bay operates the sewer plant with the Cayucos Sanitary District. The council had asked for a joint meeting with the district but was told that was not possible because of conflicting holiday schedules.

Voting against the sewer project were Mayor Jamie Irons and council members Noah Smukler and Christine Johnson. All three were elected to the council last year, with Smukler being an incumbent and Irons and Johnson new council members.

During the campaign, all three had been critical of the city’s plans to rebuild the treatment plant at its current location on Atascadero Road near Morro Rock and Morro Creek. They said the city should have worked more closely with Coastal Commission staff to find a mutually agreeable alternate location.

Coastal Commission staff cites a list of reasons the sewer plant should be moved. Most of them have to do with the current location’s proximity to the ocean and Morro Creek, leaving it vulnerable to flooding, tsunamis and sea level rise.

“The (Coastal Commission) staff report is clear about the difficulties and challenges of the treatment plant’s current location,” Irons said. “Personally, I felt that their staff recommendation is clear, and I support that.”

Irons and City Manager Andrea Lueker will present the city’s newly passed resolution to the Coastal Commission on Thursday.

The other two council members, Nancy Johnson and George Leage, support keeping the treatment plant at the current location. Cost was the main reason the previous council had resisted moving the plant.

Construction costs at the current location are estimated to be $27 million. That price tag could go up by $12 million if the plant were moved to a new location. The increase would be related to the cost of acquiring a new location and the expense of laying new pipes to connect the plant to the existing sewer system.

Also on Thursday, the council voted to suspend contracts with consultants hired to do sewer-related work. The contracts were not terminated, and the council will decide later whether to reactivate them, Irons said.

To date, Dennis Delzeit has been paid $197,145 for project management services. The consulting firm Dudek was paid $430,762 for analysis of alternative locations. 

Finally, consultant Susan McCabe was paid $144,417 to lobby the Coastal Commission to accept the current treatment plant project.

To date, $772,324 has been spent on these consultants. 

About $91,000 in their contracts remains unspent.

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