Nipomo CSD OKs pipeline’s initial funding plan

Opponents poised to fight financing proposal for project’s $17.5 million first phase

clambert@thetribunenews.comApril 29, 2013 

The Nipomo Community Services District is moving ahead with a phased plan to bring water to the community from Santa Maria through a pipeline built across the Santa Maria River.

In the meantime, local residents who opposed earlier efforts to pay for construction of the pipeline by raising property taxes are positioning themselves to fight the district’s latest action on its funding plan.

This past week, the services district board voted 4-1, with board member Bob Blair dissenting, to approve an updated funding plan for the first phase of the project, now estimated to cost $17.5 million.

District officials have long held that Mesa property owners must reduce their dependency on the underground aquifer, which is the area’s only source of water. The district spearheaded the project to construct a pipeline and pay Santa Maria for additional water.

Last May, Nipomo-area property owners rejected a plan to fund construction of a $26 million pipeline by raising property taxes through an assessment district.

After that vote, Nipomo district officials moved to build the pipeline in phases, using state and district funds, including a $2.2 million grant from the state Department of Water Resources.

The district also plans to use about $4 million from a reserve fund created to repair and replace “existing capital assets.” District officials say use of the money is appropriate because the pipeline will reduce the district’s need to repair and refurbish its wells, and will prolong their use.

However, San Luis Obispo-based attorney Babak Naficy, who represents a group of residents called Mesa Community Alliance, argues that state law prevents the district from spending the reserve money on the pipeline instead of capital replacement projects.

“In my view, they’re saying, ‘That law doesn’t apply to me,’ ” said Bill Petrick, secretary of Mesa Community Alliance and a Nipomo district resident. “Right now it’s like they’re daring us to take them to court.”

Naficy said Mesa Community Alliance members are discussing whether to file litigation. In a letter to district deputy legal counsel Michael Seitz dated April 19, Naficy wrote that the group could seek an immediate temporary restraining order and an injunction.

The board also approved a revised agreement with Santa Maria for future water sales. Nipomo district customers would start paying a higher cost for water once construction is complete and delivery starts, likely in late 2014.

District general manager Michael LeBrun estimated that customers will pay roughly an additional $1.50 for each “unit” of water used. A unit is equal to 750 gallons.

Three other major water purveyors on the Nipomo Mesa — Golden State Water Co., Rural Water Co. and Woodlands Mutual Water Co. — had also agreed to purchase a portion of the supplemental water as part of a stipulation that resulted from a settlement of litigation over water rights in the Santa Maria groundwater basin.

“Once we get under construction, one priority will be to put in place sales contracts with each individual purveyor,” LeBrun said.

The board is scheduled to consider awarding construction contracts for the first phase of the project at its May 22 meeting.

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