Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Bruce Gibson compared the cost of the Los Osos sewer project to the cost of the Hoover Dam. It was actually Frank Mecham who made the comparison.
After 33 years of discussion and false starts, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors made quick work in formally committing the county to building a $189 million sewer treatment plant and collection system in Los Osos.
Following a brief summation of sewer-related issues by 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson, supervisors Tuesday afternoon voted unanimously to move the project forward.
As has been the case for years, affordability was a key issue. First District Supervisor Frank Mecham wondered why everybody in the coastal community of some 14,500 wasn’t included in state-mandated septic tank prohibition.
“If a sewer is of communitywide benefit, why isn’t everybody paying for it?” he asked. “That would lower individual costs.”
Public Works Director Paavo Ogren said a Prop. 218 vote could be proposed at a later date, with residents living outside the state water board’s mandated zone of prohibition assessing themselves.
At one time the cost per household was estimated at around $200 a month. But a combination of low interest state and federal loans has dropped that number to about $165 a month. And, if owners of unimproved property vote to be included in the assessment district, that number could drop to $135.
Nonetheless, as Mecham noted, the Los Osos system will cost more than the 1935 construction costs of Hoover Dam, which were $165 million. (Adjusting for inflation, it would be $2.6 billion in 2010 dollars.) That said, he added, “The state water board didn’t stipulate a cost factor in demanding that the community stop polluting its groundwater.”
And the Regional Water Quality Control Board is the next hurdle the county has to clear May 5 when it goes before the state agency for adoption of its discharge requirements.
The treatment plant will be able to handle 1.2 million gallons of wastewater fed to it by 41 miles of collection lines. It’s expected to be completed by 2014.
Before the vote, Gibson went down a list of issues that have been repeatedly brought to the attention of the board by the public:
There is no significantly cheaper alternative.
The county is not using the project as a blank check.
There is no hidden agenda. “This has been an unprecedented public process,” he noted.
“This resolution puts us on the hook to do this project,” he told The Tribune before Tuesday’s vote. “It cements our intention to proceed.”