The Cambria Community Services District appears poised to leave environmental clearance for beach well testing needed for desalination planning in the hands of the Army Corps of Engineers, a federal agency that would have to meet federal standards, but not requirements of the California Environment Quality Act (CEQA).
On the agenda for to-day’s district board meeting is adoption of a resolution “acknowledging U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ sole responsibility for the Santa Rosa Creek Beach geotechnical and hydrogeological study.”
As a federal agency, the Corps doesn’t have to get project permission from county or state agencies, but must submit notice of a “categorical exclusion for
planning and technical studies.” The Corps sent a notice dated Dec. 21 to the state Coastal Commission stating that the proposed testing on, under and near the beach at the mouth of Santa Rosa Creek is “consistent to the maximum extent practicable with the California Coastal Act” and asking that the commission agree with the “consistency determination.”
Commission consideration was scheduled for April 15, but was postponed to a later date. Commission staffer Tom Luster said April 9 he hopes to schedule the hearing at the agency’s mid-May meeting, but that action will depend on what the services district board decides today and decisions by the Corps.
The Cambria district originally called a special meeting Jan. 5 to consider filing a notice of exemption from CEQA, in line with the Corps notice to the commission, but after public testimony about potential environmental impacts, instead decided to do an initial environmental study under CEQA. On Jan. 14, it filed a “negative declaration” with the county, stating, “there is no substantial evidence that the Project may have a significant ef fect on the environment.”
The district’s report has drawn more than 100 pages of comments from individuals, groups and permit-issuing agencies.
Adoption of that report by the CCSD board was postponed at its meetings on Feb. 25 and March 25.
Testing at the current site has been part of CCSD plans since mid-2008, after the Coastal Commission turned back plans to do testing at the mouth of San Simeon Creek. The tests call for drilling up to 10 test holes so the soil can be studied and converting up to three holes into test wells so the potential water flow can be tested—all to determine if the area could supply enough water to supply a desalination plant.
The actual desalination plant would be located away from the beach and would be subject of a full environmental impact report before construction.
The Corps is involved in Cambria’s desalination project because federal money, including so-called “stimulus funds,” have been pledged to design and build the plant. Under the project cooperation agreement between the two agencies, the desalination project is a joint ef fort of the two agencies.
According to Greg Sanders, president of the district board, he and Director Muril Clift, General Manager Tammy Rudock and District Engineer Bob Gresens met Friday, April 16, with high-level Corps staf fers, including Col. Thomas Magness, commander of the Los Angeles District office, and other senior members of the team that’s working on Cambria’s desalination project.
Sanders said Sunday, April 18, he couldn’t divulge specifics about the meeting, because other district board members hadn’t been briefed. Also, the district is waiting for a confirmation letter from the Corps that would detail exactly how the agency will proceed.