So far, efforts by a group of local residents to stop the Nipomo Community Services District’s plan to construct a pipeline to bring water to the area from Santa Maria have fallen flat.
San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Martin J. Tangeman last week denied a portion of the Mesa Community Alliance’s petition seeking to prevent the $17.5 million project from moving ahead.
On Wednesday, he denied the group’s motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the district from using $4 million for the project from a specific reserve fund.
However, the Mesa Community Alliance’s petition for a permanent injunction is still outstanding, said Nipomo Community Services District attorney Michael Seitz.
Bill Petrick, secretary for Mesa Community Alliance, said the group is still deciding whether or not to move forward. “We’re looking at our options. But I don’t think there are many options available.”
In the meantime, the district will continue to move ahead with its pipeline project under an alternative financing plan, which includes borrowing an additional $4 million.
The Mesa Community Alliance’s challenge of the project is one twist in what has been a lengthy debate about water on the Nipomo Mesa.
Nipomo district leaders say the pipeline is necessary to reduce dependence on an underground aquifer, the area’s only source of water. After Nipomo-area property owners rejected a financing plan to construct a $26 million pipeline project, the services district board approved plans to build the project in phases.
The first phase is estimated to cost $17.5 million and would connect a pipeline to Santa Maria’s water system, install it across the Santa Maria River and connect to the community’s water system. Two other phases are planned to increase the pipeline’s capacity.
The district had planned to use $4 million from a reserve fund created to repair and replace “existing capital assets.” District officials said use of the money was appropriate because the pipeline will reduce the district’s need to repair and refurbish its wells, and will prolong their use.
But Mesa Community Alliance, group of residents who live within the Nipomo district and surrounding areas, argued the district does not have the discretion to use the money because the reserve fund is specifically intended for “replacement of capital assets.”
“There’s no evidence that somehow adding the pipeline increases the life of their capital assets,” San Luis Obispo-based attorney Babak Naficy, representing Mesa Community Alliance, said in court Wednesday.
He argued the district board’s decision to use reserve funds is not appropriate and “amounts to creating a slush fund.”
But Tangeman did not agree with some of Mesa Community Alliance’s arguments. In a tentative ruling posted online, he wrote the district made specific findings to determine the use of the money is consistent with the reserve fund’s purpose “because the project will extend the useful life of the assets.”
The district is more likely to suffer greater damage if the injunction is granted, Tangeman wrote, noting that further delay of the project could jeopardize a $2.2 million state grant.
Also, district officials have said the project would need to be delayed if construction contracts aren’t awarded by June 26 — resulting in an additional $100,000 cost to re-prequalify contractors for rebidding.
The district also has a permit from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to drill under the Santa Maria River, but the work must be done by Oct. 31.