Gibson pushes for sewer’s OK

San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson has embarked on a weeklong lobbying blitz to persuade members of the state Coastal Commission to approve the county’s Los Osos sewer project.

Gibson said Thursday that he plans to meet with all 12 members of the panel to deliver his pitch that the commission should reject the multiple appeals that have been filed and approve the project as proposed by the county.

He drove to Santa Cruz on Thursday to meet with Santa Cruz County Supervisor Mark Stone, one of two commissioners who have appealed the project. Such one-on-one lobbying, called ex parte communications, is common, particularly with larger projects.

The commission will meet in Huntington Beach on Jan. 14 to determine whether the appeals raise concerns about the project that are serious enough to merit a separate hearing. If the commission rejects the appeals, the project will have its final regulatory approval and the project can begin.

The county has already won the backing of commission staffers who are recommending the appeals be rejected. Even so, Gibson said he is not taking any chances.

“Going before the Coastal Commission is like taking a case to a jury,” he said. “It’s not a slam dunk.”

Gibson said one of the main arguments he will make to commissioners is that the project must move ahead quickly in order to take advantage of federal stimulus money that would reduce the cost of the project to Los Osos property owners.

The county has until the end of February to apply for $80 million from the federal Department of Agriculture. These funds — 20 percent in grants and 80 percent in low-interest loans — would cover nearly half the cost of the $165 million project.

The county and commission staffers would be able to make only minor adjustments to the project and still meet the February deadline. If the commission required a major redesign, the project could be set back by several years or more, said Paavo Ogren, county public works director.

The cost of the sewer will be a major burden for Los Osos residents, many of whom are seniors and others on fixed incomes. The cost of the sewer for the typical single family home is $25,000.

This would translate into roughly $200 per month for 30 years with 50 of those dollars used to cover the ongoing cost of running the sewer. The $80 million in stimulus money would reduce that monthly bill to $163, Ogren said.

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.