Plans to upgrade the antiquated sewage treatment plant serving Morro Bay and Cayucos have hit a major stumbling block at the California Coastal Commission.
At a recent meeting, the commission voted that environmental problems associated with the $34 million project are substantial enough to justify a full review. That hearing is expected late this year or early next year, said Dennis Delzeit, project manager.
Five problem areas were outlined in a report presented to the commission March 11. The most important of these is the fact that the project is located close to the ocean in an area vulnerable to floods and tsunamis.
As a result of the finding of substantial issues, the city will hire consultants who can address the commission’s concerns. They will determine what additional studies need to be done.
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“Our goal is to do additional analysis so we can see what solutions are available,” Delzeit said.Commission staff said the project is flawed because:
It is located in “a 100-year floodplain and tsunami inundation zone directly adjacent to an eroding shoreline where sea level is rising and in an area subject to known seismic hazards.”
It is located in a sensitive view area between Highway 1 and Morro Rock, which “would obstruct and degrade important public views, including through increased structural height.”
It is located close to numerous documented archaeological sites and is atop a significant Native American burial ground.
It would reduce the availability of scarce oceanfront land for potential public recreation purposes because of both construction activities and operation of the plant.
It lacks meaningful water reclamation because it would recycle small amounts of water and would continue to discharge most of the treated effluent into the ocean.
The Morro Bay wastewater treatment plant at 160 Atascadero Road is operated jointly by the city and the Cayucos Sanitary District. It is one of the few plants in California that is still permitted to discharge partially treated water into the ocean.
The plant treats an average of 1.25 million gallons of sewage per day. Nearly 1 million gallons a day of that is treated to secondary levels and the remainder is treated only to primary levels before being discharged. The desired level is secondary treatment for all sewage effluent discharges to the ocean.
The new plant would treat 1.5 million gallons per day to tertiary level with any amount over that treated to secondary levels. Plans call for eventually trucking away 400,000 gallons a day of treated water for agricultural and landscaping uses.
Critics of the project have filed nine appeals challenging it. Appellants include two coastal commissioners, former Morro Bay City Councilwoman Betty Winholtz, an agricultural coalition and the environmentalist groups Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation.
If the Coastal Commission approves the project, construction could start as early as March 2012. February 2014 is the scheduled completion date.