Morro Bay eyes Highway 41 properties for new sewage treatment plant

Morro Bay’s City Council has narrowed its choices for where to build a wastewater treatment plant to one preferred location and two backups — while it also explores the idea of sharing a plant with the California Men’s Colony.

The council decided Tuesday night that a Morro Valley location is its top choice from a list of seven contenders. The decision followed the recommendation of Atascadero-based planning consultant John Rickenbach.

In Morro Valley, the study primarily looked at two parcels totaling 446 acres east of the city along the north side of Highway 41. The estimated construction cost is $100 million.

Morro Bay must relocate the sewage treatment plant because the state Coastal Commission rejected city plans in January to replace its facility near the beach on Atascadero Road.

The Coastal Commission said that location is too close to the ocean and Morro Creek, and is in a floodplain. Morro Bay runs the plant jointly with the Cayucos Sanitation District.

The council picked Chorro Valley as its top backup choice — considering several parcels but primarily two sites totaling 51 acres within city limits near Highway 1 and South Bay Boulevard. The estimated construction cost there is $110 million.

Its third choice, known as the Giannini property, is a 36-acre property east of Highway 1 overlooking the Morro Valley south of Little Morro Creek. The estimated cost for that site is $100 million.

Meanwhile, the city is not ruling out the idea of the California Men’s Colony property because it has multiagency cost-sharing potential.

The council agreed Tuesday to look further into that option as it moves forward with a more specific examination of the other three sites. The 119-acre site is on the Cuesta College campus, next to the sewage treatment plant used by the California Men’s Colony prison. The proposal would call for building a new plant, at a cost of $160 million, which could be shared by Morro Bay and the state prison, and possibly the Cayucos district as well.

The CMC site initially was ranked the lowest because it’s nearly five miles from Morro Bay and would require complicated agreements between the state, county, city and the Cayucos district, if it was interested in partnering on the plant.

On Tuesday, the council also decided against using a 13-acre site on Morro Bay Power Plant property, despite its lower $90 million price tag, because of its proximity to residents and the potential for other uses.

The power plant, operated by Dynegy, will close in February.

Rickenbach presented a study by his firm that analyzed a number of factors at each site — including cost and environmental issues — and incorporated feedback from the community.

Community concerns include odors emitted from the plant, cost and impacts on surrounding neighborhoods.

“(Rickenbach) did a great job with the report,” Mayor Jamie Irons said. “Now, we’ll need to do our due diligence and address all the information we’ve obtained.”

Future steps include working toward agreements with property owners to buy the land, hiring a design engineer and conducting technological studies on the chosen site.