With backing of Coastal Commission staff, county is in good shape to get sewer permits

County Public Works officials will have a distinct advantage when they go before the state Coastal Commission next week for approval of the Los Osos sewer project: the backing of commission staff.

In the report that will be used in the Jan. 14 hearing in Huntington Beach, staffers recommend that the commission find that the multiple appeals filed against the $165 million project raise no substantial issues and that the project should be approved.

“The county has gone to great lengths to address coastal resource issues and LCP (local coastal plan) requirements through a long and inclusive public process including working closely with commission staff to address various issues,” staff planner Jonathan Bishop wrote in his report.

Nearly 30 groups and individuals appealed the county’s project to the commission, including two coastal commissioners. The appeals cover 10 separate concerns, mostly dealing with the location of the treatment plant on a rectangular piece of fallow farmland east of Los Osos known as the Giacomazzi site.

The appellants raise some valid concerns, Bishop said, but they do not constitute violations of the area’s local coastal plan. Such plans are Coastal Commission-approved blueprints that govern development and protect resources along the coast. Approval of the project requires a majority of the 12-member panel.

If the commission approves the sewer project, the county Public Works Department will have all the permits it needs to begin constructing the project. Lawsuits would be the only remaining way to stop it.

Approval of the project would cap a contentious, 20-year effort to install a sewage collection, treatment and effluent disposal system in the seaside community of 15,000 people.

The town now uses hundreds of septic systems, and the leach fields do not function properly in the sandy soil and high water table, causing numerous water pollution problems.

The sewer system is also designed to recharge aquifers and protect them from saltwater intrusion. These aquifers are the community’s source of drinking water.

Over the years, several sewer systems have been proposed. The Los Osos Community Services District began building a system in 2005, but it was stopped later that year after a majority of the board was recalled.

Legislation later transferred responsibility for the sewer system to the county. In 2007, Los Osos property owners approved an assessment that will fund most of the project.

A single-family home will be charged nearly $25,000 as its share of the assessment. This can be paid immediately or on property tax bills ranging over 20 to 40 years.