New location, new price: Morro Bay sewer plant will cost more than $100 million

Morro Bay’s new wastewater treatment and water recycling facility will cost an estimated $126 million at its new site at the intersection of South Bay Boulevard and Highway 1.
Morro Bay’s new wastewater treatment and water recycling facility will cost an estimated $126 million at its new site at the intersection of South Bay Boulevard and Highway 1.

A new draft Facilities Master Plan for Morro Bay now projects that the city’s planned new sewage treatment and water recycling facility will cost from $126 million to $140 million, a substantial increase over the 2013 estimate of $100 million.

In addition, the project has a contingency plan of an additional $25 million to $28 million.

The city is citing a number of reasons for the increased estimate at the new preferred site off South Bay Boulevard over its previously preferred site in Morro Valley, including a 10 to 15 percent increase in cost for building at the new location.

Nonetheless, the new facility is expected to reduce operational costs to produce water by $1.5 million per year, or $45 million over a 30-year period.

“The facility will allow the city to achieve locally controlled water independence, potentially no longer dependent on state water supplies, which are drought-affected, and, in the decades ahead, facing substantial cost increases that cannot be controlled locally,” said Dave Buckingham, Morro Bay’s city manager.

The hike in costs to complete the project by the anticipated date of June 2021 is because of a number of factors, including that more piping will be needed because the new location is farther from the city center.

Also, the system will use advanced treatment technology to replenish the city’s groundwater supply, which will be more expensive. And a component called an “equalization tank” will need to be built to handle days of intense rains and increased water flow into the system.

The past estimate also didn’t include some significant costs, such as an estimated $5 million for decommissioning the existing 62-year-old wastewater treatment plant by the ocean, which dumps about 1 million gallons a day of treated water into the ocean.

In January 2013, the Coastal Commission turned down a proposal to rebuild the Morro Bay treatment plant at its current location near the beach and Morro Creek, and the council opted to build a new treatment plant at an inland location.

In the past comparison study of possible sites that included Rancho Colina in the Morro Valley and the California Men’s Colony, the city focused on agricultural water reuse, not the more expensive groundwater injection option, which is a council-approved goal that takes into consideration community input.

Buckingham said the city has a memorandum of understanding with the property owner to buy the new preferred parcel. The appraised value is expected to be about $300,000 for the property located near the intersection of South Bay Boulevard and Highway 1. The sale can’t go through until a final environmental impact report is completed.

Buckingham said that past estimates to build at the Rancho Colina site ranged from $77 million to $120 million, depending on the technology used.

“The project envisioned for the Rancho Colina site assumed a mid-range of technology,” Buckingham said. “But using more advanced technology, and factoring in the decommissioning of the existing plant that will cost $5 million, also because it’s three years later and you have to account for inflation, the cost would be about what we’re projecting now.”

The draft Facility Master Plan will help the city complete a comprehensive EIR, a draft of which the city plans to complete for public review by August of next year, with finalization of the environmental study anticipated for next November. A detailed project design will be developed in 2018, with construction anticipated to begin in mid-2019, according to the study.

The draft Master Facilities Plan was developed by the Irvine-based office of Black and Veatch, an engineering and construction company specializing in water infrastructure development.

Workshop on Monday

The city is hosting a public workshop to review the Facility Master Plan at 6 p.m. Monday at the Morro Bay Community Center, 1001 Kennedy Way in Morro Bay.