Supervisor from Paso Robles puts his foot down on more SLO County money for Los Osos sewer

County Supervisors Tuesday allocated $250,000 to keep the Los Osos sewer project moving forward, but Supervisor Frank Mecham made it clear that he has lost patience with the cost of the project to county taxpayers.

“This is it for me,” he said before reluctantly voting in favor of the funding. “I’m not going to be voting for any more allocations.”

The sewer project is expected to cost $165 million. The county Public Works Department has spent $7 million so far designing and permitting the project, which will be a complete sewage collection, treatment and disposal system for the seaside community of 10,000.

The $250,000 will take the project through January, said Paavo Ogren, county Public Works director. It will cover applying for federal stimulus grants and loans to help pay for the project.

It will also cover a hearing before the state Coastal Commission to consider 22 appeals of the project, including one from the Coastal Commission itself. That hearing is expected to take place in January, when the commission meets in Southern California.

Supervisor Bruce Gibson, whose district includes Los Osos, urged the other supervisors to approve the funding. It will come from the county’s road paving budget.

“We are in sight of getting this done,” he said. “We are on the threshold of getting some major funding.”

Mecham agreed to the funding only on the condition that the $250,000 come from paving projects that would have been done in Los Osos. Most road work planned for Los Osos has been postponed, pending streets there being torn up to install sewage collection lines, Ogren said.

Gibson said after the meeting he expects the Public Works Department to make additional funding requests. Unlike previous requests, however, future funding allocation will have “a clear and certain path to being repaid,” he said.

Supervisors are slated to hold another hearing on the Los Osos sewer Nov. 24. They will consider making several changes to the permitting requirements to satisfy concerns by the Coastal Commission.

Specifically, they will change the conditions of the project to require that all of the sewer plant’s effluent be discharged within the Los Osos groundwater basin. As currently worded, the project allows the effluent to be discharged in a somewhat larger area in Los Osos Valley.

The changes will not substantially change the feasibility of the project, Ogren said. If they are made, they will likely eliminate one of the 22 appeals the project faces at the Coastal Commission.

Several Los Osos residents objected to the hearing taking place two days before Thanksgiving.

The Board of Supervisors is already scheduled to hold a meeting that day and the changes need to be made speedily to keep the project on schedule, Gibson said.