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Sewer mess snares politicos

Indiana congressman Pete Visclosky, center, joined congresswoman Lois Capps and Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee as they headed out with members of the Regional Water Board to collect water samples from the Morro Bay Estuary in Los Osos.
Photo by Joe Johnston 4-12-07
Indiana congressman Pete Visclosky, center, joined congresswoman Lois Capps and Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee as they headed out with members of the Regional Water Board to collect water samples from the Morro Bay Estuary in Los Osos. Photo by Joe Johnston 4-12-07 The Tribune

An Indiana congressman with heavy sway on whether the Los Osos sewer project gets federal funding this year took a tour Thursday through the coastal community.

After an hourlong drive through town with Los Osos¹ congresswoman, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, Rep. Pete Visclosky said he had gained understanding of the town¹s plight.

"At this point I can't promise anything," he said, referring to how much funding Los Osos might receive. "But there is clearly a need here." Visclosky's visit was part of Capps' effort to secure millions of dollars for a sewer system in Los Osos.

The Democratic congressman serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development - one of 12 subcommittees that together control 40 percent of federal spending each fiscal year.

His subcommittee allocates money through the Water Resources Development Act, which authorizes funding for river and harbor improvement projects throughout the nation.

Capps is asking for $35 million to go toward the Los Osos sewer in 2008.

That includes $5 million the county says it needs to help design the project.

Los Osos has no sewer system now. The town, which has more than 14,000 residents, operates on septic systems.

State water quality regulators want a sewer built in hopes of halting groundwater pollution ‹ the suspected cause of which is those septic systems.

The Los Osos Community Services District had been pursuing a sewer project, which broke ground in 2005 and was expected to cost more than $100 million.

The project was scrapped, though, after a recall replaced the majority of the district¹s board of directors in September 2005.

Under a plan by Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, that was approved last year by the state Legislature, the county is now charged with designing and building a sewer.

The services district qualified for funding through the water resources bill in 2000 after Capps made a request for $7.8 million for the now-scrapped project the district was pursuing. Congress allocated $200,000, which the district put toward design of that project.

Allocations are made each year, said Visclosky¹s press secretary, and Los Osos will be eligible for more funding in coming years.Second District Supervisor Bruce Gibson said the county will likely ask for more funding if it proceeds with construction.

Gibson, Blakeslee and other local dignitaries joined the tour Thursday for a walk into the Morro Bay National Estuary, where state water officials helped Capps and Visclosky take a water sample and explained Los Osos¹ pollution problems to the congressman.

An environmental scientist with the state water board said the results of the sample will be sent to Visclosky's office.

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