San Luis Obispo County supervisors approve planner's choice for site and method of sewer in Los Osos

In a marathon session that began at 9 a.m. and ended just before 10 p.m., the county Board of Supervisors propelled the proposed Los Osos wastewater treatment plant, a burr in the county’s saddle for three decades, past a major hurdle Tuesday.

Supervisors ratified a Planning Commission approval of the project, agreeing on dozens of issues, including choosing a gravity collection system and a site — the Giacomazzi property east of town.

The vote was unanimous.

In designating the Giacomazzi site for the treatment plant, supervisors rejected suggestions that they choose instead the Tri-W and Tonini locations.

Although neighbors of the Giacomazzi location, including a representative of an abutting cemetery, objected, Supervisor Jim Patterson said the county could place restrictions on the operation of the plant.

“The plant will be a good neighbor,” he said.

Supervisors also agreed on such issues as how to control noise and odor, requirements for retrofits, providing emergency access, level of treatment for and use of effluent, and other elements of the plan.

The decisions came after a day of hearings at which supervisors heard a lengthy staff report, sifted through a 900-page planning document, listened to 17 appeals of the Planning Commission approval of the current plan, and deliberated among themselves.

“The volume of detail … is truly staggering,” said board Chairman Bruce Gibson.

Supervisors dealt with the objections one-by-one as they made their decisions.

The choice of collection systems was one of the major disputes among the dozens of speakers during the public hearing. Under the STEP system, a homeowner would install a new tank with a pipe to the street.

Another major audience dispute arose over the Planning Commission’s decision to put the plant on the Giacomazzi site — agricultural land off Los Osos Valley Road east of town abutting the Los Osos Valley Memorial Park.

Don Bearden, one of the appellants, said the location disturbs agricultural land and a possible archaeological site. He added that the Giacomazzi site still has not been purchased and predicted that the Coastal Commission is going to slow the project with questions and requirements.

Bearden, like some other speakers, said the county should move the project back to the Tri-W site near the center of town. Other speakers opted for different locations.

The 17 appellants ranged from individual Los Osos residents to representatives of Los Osos Valley Memorial Park to groups such as the Surfrider Foundation and the Sierra Club.

In addition to the location and the type of collection system, they objected to the environmental impact report, the possible deleterious effect on low-income homeowners and renters, the cost, aesthetics, inadequate public notice, the disposal of bio-solids, and other aspects of the project.

The stakes were high. The Planning Commission spent months reaching its conclusions, and the supervisors were the final county officials who must sign off, with the state Coastal Commission remaining as a final hurdle.

Los Osos has been trying to install a sewage disposal system for decades, and disagreements among residents have torn the community apart.

“Dealing with sewage is messy,” said Planning Commissioner Anne Wyatt.

Construction could begin as early as 2010, said project engineer John Waddell, unless someone sues to stop it or the appeals process drags on.

Patterson said he hopes the plant will stay in place for the long term — 70 years. “We want this to be a state-of-the-art facility,” Patterson said.