Los Osos sewer system gets final approval from California Coastal Commission

The state Coastal Commission unanimously gave its final approval Friday to the Los Osos sewer project, allowing it to move closer to construction and possibly secure millions of dollars in federal stimulus funding.

Friday’s decision could help the county receive more than $80 million in a federal stimulus funding package. County Supervisor Bruce Gibson, whose Second District includes Los Osos, said that a decision on how the stimulus money will be allocated is expected in July.

“It’s a tremendous result,” Gibson said. “While we’ll celebrate this accomplishment, we’re also going to start working on the 65 other things we have to do.”

The county is also working to secure state or federal funding to help low-income homeowners afford the additional cost, estimated at about $200 a month, which Gibson said he hoped could be reduced “with good financing and bids.”

The Los Osos sewer project includes the installation of an entire sewage collection, treatment and disposal system, serving the nearly 15,000 residents of Los Osos/Baywood Park. The sewer will replace thousands of septic systems that are blamed for nitrate and bacteria pollution in ground and surface water.

The county’s proposal puts the treatment plant at the Giacomazzi property off Los Osos Valley Road behind a cemetery.

The total project is estimated to cost $181.6 million, with $166 million coming from state and federal loans and possibly federal grants. The other $15.6 million are improvement costs that individual homeowners must pay to hook up to the system.

Thirteen Los Osos residents spoke at Friday’s hearing held in Marina del Rey, some expressing serious concerns about the project’s cost to community residents and the proposed collection system, saying that an alternate plan would be more cost effective.

The county has proposed a gravity collection system — by which sewage flows downhill with pump stations to move the wastewater from areas that can’t be served by gravity — which was criticized by several of the speakers.

“Our hopes were pinned on you that you could refine it and make it better for the environment and more affordable for the community,” resident Julie Tacker told commissioners.

None of the community members at the meeting said what next step they might take.

Sometime in the next several months, the county Board of Supervisors will consider a resolution to proceed with construction of the project, Gibson said. The financing has to be in place before the county can solicit bids for construction.

County Public Works Director Paavo Ogren said supervisors also need to vote to agree with the terms and conditions in the coastal development permit approved by the Coastal Commission.

“To me, this is the single biggest milestone in the county’s effort,” Ogren said of the commission action. “And to get a unanimous decision … is reflective of the work that everybody is doing as well as good work of the Coastal Commission staff.”

Coastal commissioners were satisfied with the overall design of the project, but focused on seven areas for additional clarification or project changes, including a more detailed timeline of the water conservation plan, more information about endangered species habitat conservation and protection of Willow Creek.

The county agreed to comply with work in recent months that has resulted in a series of modifications to the project.

They include: restoring the midtown or Tri-W site where the treatment plant for a previous sewer project was to be located; restoring and enhancing 5.7 acres of habitat buffer at the Giacomazzi site; and permanent protection of 72 acres of existing sensitive habitat at the Broderson disposal site, where the current project’s effluent leach field will be situated.