A plan to rebuild a sewage treatment plant next to the beach in Morro Bay will face an uphill battle when it goes before the state Coastal Commission next week.
Commission staff is recommending the project be denied and a new project be submitted that would place the plant along Highway 41 on the outskirts of Morro Bay. The recommendation is based almost entirely on the proposed project’s location across the street from a public beach just north of Morro Rock.
“The (plant) site is located in a tsunami run-up zone in an area that would also be inundated in a 100-year storm event through a combination of inland flooding (associated with Morro Creek) and ocean flooding, all of which would be exacerbated by sea-level rise over time,” summarized the staff report.
Commission staff recommends that the plant be relocated to a 260-acre parcel, called the Righetti site, which is just east of the city limits and north of Highway 41. A small part of the site is taken up by a residence, with the rest used for grazing.
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The commission will hear the matter when it meets Aug. 9 in Santa Cruz. It is the last item on the day’s agenda.
The city and its consultants will argue that the treatment plant should be rebuilt where the current plant sits, even though it is close to the ocean. Various studies done by Morro Bay have concluded that steps could be taken to deal with the commission’s concerns.
“We’ve seen nothing in the (staff) report that justifies switching to the Righetti site,” said Dennis Delzeit, sewer project manager.
Cost is the main reason for wanting to keep the treatment plant at its current location, Morro Bay Mayor Bill Yates said. Moving the treatment plant to the Righetti site could add $25 million to the cost of the project, which is pegged at $34 million.
The cost increases would come in the form of redesign expenses, installing new pipes to connect the Righetti site to the existing sewer infrastructure and acquiring the Righetti property, which is on the market for $2.4 million.
“I’m disappointed with the staff report,” Yates said. “I’m fearful that we could have another Los Osos sewer on our hands.”
The commission’s staff takes issue with Yates’ assessment. The cost of moving the treatment plant could be “negligible” because of savings realized by producing more recycled water at the Righetti site and additional revenues collected by converting the current site to tourist businesses, the staff report concluded.
The current treatment plant was built in 1954 and has been upgraded several times since then. It serves about 13,000 customers in Morro Bay and Cayucos.
It is one of the last plants in the state that has a waiver that allows it to discharge effluent to the ocean that is only treated to the primary level. A new plant will treat almost all of the wastewater to full tertiary levels.
If the commission rejects the proposed project, the city will have to find another location for the treatment plant, and the Righetti site is a viable alternative, Yates said.
“But the vote hasn’t been taken, yet,” he said.