Morro Bay and Cayucos are bound by an aging sewage treatment plant that serves both communities. The plant is managed cooperatively under a joint powers agreement.
However, deep rifts in that relationship emerged in January when the state Coastal Commission rejected plans to rebuild the treatment plant at its location near the ocean. A majority on the Morro Bay City Council sided with the commission, while a minority of the council and the Cayucos board backed the rebuild at the existing location.
After hours of discussion, the two entities declared their intention to work together to quickly find a new location for the treatment plant. However, the Cayucos board members said they feel obligated to “do due diligence” and explore the option of dissolving the joint powers agreement and building a separate treatment plant.
“We’re together until we’re apart,” said Dan Lloyd of the Cayucos board.
When the discussion began, each side waited for the other to take the lead.
Robert Enns, chairman of the Cayucos Sanitary District, said it makes sense for Morro Bay to take the lead because it is the “host city,” meaning that the new plant would be in or near Morro Bay, and the city accounts for 75 percent of the sewage treated by the plant.
Morro Bay City Council members said they need to know whether the Cayucos board intends to stay in the joint powers agreement. They encouraged cooperation in order to move ahead quickly and save costs.
“I would like to see us move forward as partners,” Mayor Jamie Irons said.
However, signs of continuing dysfunction between the two agencies were evident at the Feb. 14 meeting.
The Morro Bay council announced that the city is getting an assessed valuation of the Righetti Ranch as a possible alternative location for the treatment plant. The ranch is a 260-acre parcel on the eastern edge of the city that has already been identified as a likely alternative.
Enns and others on the Cayucos board criticized Morro Bay for moving ahead unilaterally on the Righetti property without consulting the joint powers agreement. Irons defended the move as the next logical step in moving the process forward.
Bruce Keogh, Morro Bay’s wastewater systems manager, has estimated it could take eight to 10 years to build a treatment plant at a new location. This angered some residents of the two communities, who requested the timeline be reduced to six years.
Tim Carmel, counsel for the Cayucos district, said the Regional Water Quality Control Board is also going to want swift action on a new treatment plant. The current plant’s wastewater discharge permit expires next year, and the parties will have to apply for an extension.
“They are going to put a gun to your head and ask what you are planning and what your timeline is,” Carmel said.
The two entities ended the meeting with the promise of meeting separately to come up with a list of action items to discuss at the next joint meeting which could be as soon as next month.
“I feel like I’ve been at a marriage counseling meeting,” quipped Morro Bay Councilman George Leage as the meeting broke up.