Piping almost all in for Los Osos sewer

Workers install a lateral sewer line in front of Noi's Little Thai Takeout in Baywood Park.
Workers install a lateral sewer line in front of Noi's Little Thai Takeout in Baywood Park. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

An earlier version of this story misquoted Diana Williams, owner of The Hairin Salon in Baywood Park. The quote has been corrected in the story below.

After 30 years of debate and divisive politics among Los Osos residents, Tom Cross couldn’t be happier to see his community’s streets unearthed and sewer pipelines go in.

Cross, a financial analyst who lives on Manzanita Drive, was inconvenienced for a couple of weeks when crews worked on his pipeline. He had to walk around a large crane scooping up dirt to get into his home. But he didn’t care.

“The crews were conscientious and friendly,” Cross said. “I went out to Costco and I bought a bunch of Vitaminwater drinks and I was handing them out to the staff. I was so pleased with their performance.”

The installation of 49 miles of sewer pipeline that will serve 12,500 Los Osos residents began in October 2012 and is now 80 percent complete. The lines should be completely installed by July.

Construction of a sewage treatment plant to handle 1.2 million gallons per day is due to start in late March and take two years.

In 2016, residents will pay for installing lateral lines to connect their homes to the system.

And only then will the $183.3 million project finally be done.

Laurie Mace, a Los Osos resident and owner of Best Beauty Supply & Salon on 10th Street, said all the work will be worth it.

“It causes minor inconveniences, but we’ve waited a long time for a sewer,” Mace said. “It’s good for businesses. It’s good for the community.”

Bid before supervisors

As contractors close in on completing the pipeline, the county Board of Supervisors is scheduled Tuesday to consider a bid of about $48.1 million from Sacramento-based Auburn Constructors Inc. for the construction of the treatment plant.

An additional $1.4 million for engineering services from Carollo Engineers Inc. and about $2 million in additional funds over budget for road restoration will also be considered.

The project’s budget has grown $10 million from the $173.3 million approved in 2011. Supervisors will consider approval of the higher budget Tuesday.

Project overview

Los Osos, an eclectic, unincorporated community of about 15,000 residents, features a variety of dwellings — beach bungalows, suburban homes and cabins — often sitting side by side.

Meandering dirt roads crisscross paved streets, some with spectacular bay views. Visitors encounter front yards with colorful gardens and exotic fountains. Neighbors can be found gathering for barbecues soaked in summer fog or, of late, the winter sun.

The area attracts hikers to nearby trails in Montaña de Oro or the Elfin Forest, with more than 200 species of plants and 100 types of birds.

The community grew from the late 19th century when it was a development of summer homes and oceanside retreats.

As it did, the use of septic systems on densely developed lots led to the contamination of the area’s groundwater supply.

In 1983, the Regional Water Quality Control Board imposed regulations that halted new construction and major expansions of existing development in a “prohibition zone” of the community.

The realization of the sewer project is expected to help resolve the issues with the prohibition zone and allow building to resume.

Payment plan

The project will be paid for through $127 million in property assessments, $35 million in service charges, and $21 million in grants.

Those revenues will be used to repay federal and state loans.

An $83.1 million loan by the U.S. Department of Agriculture must be repaid with 2.6 percent interest over 40 years.

A $78.7 million Clean Water State Revolving Fund loan will be added in late 2016 or early 2017 with a 2 percent interest rate and repayment over 30 years.

Homeowners are paying a $60 per month assessment, which will jump to $165 per month in a couple of years when the revolving fund loan kicks in, project manager John Waddell said.

Homeowners also must pay for the lateral lines connecting their homes to the sewer line. That will cost them between $2,000 and $10,000 depending on the layout of their homes.

Cost increases include a $25 million higher estimate on the treatment plant than budgeted.

But the collections system work has come in $13 million under budget. And the county intends to save about $2.2 million in approved contingency funding.

“We were planning this in 2007,” Waddell said. “It’s hard to predict how much something will cost years later.”

Decades of controversy

The project now underway almost didn’t happen.

Between 1983 and 2005, about $30 million in total was spent on multiple unsuccessful efforts to develop a wastewater project fraught with controversy.

Objections included opposition to a proposed location of the treatment plant in midtown Los Osos, near the community center. Construction started there in 2005 before a recall election changed majority control of the Los Osos Community Services District’s board of directors and the project was halted.

About a year later, the district filed for bankruptcy protection to stave off creditors and figure out how to deal with dozens of lawsuits and more than $45 million in debt.

The county took over design and construction of a sewer under a plan brokered by former Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, a Republican from San Luis Obispo.

The treatment plant now is slated for construction on a 24.5-acre site, purchased for $800,000 in July, north of Los Osos Valley Memorial Park outside of town off Los Osos Valley Road.

Community impacts

The project’s community liaison, Michelle Houser, calculates she has received 3,500 emails or phone calls since the collections work started.

People often have questions or comments about when the work on their street will be done, what it will entail, and getting to their homes.

“The contacts have been pretty consistent through the project, even now,” Houser said. “We’ve strived to work well with the community.”

An online road map of the finished, current and upcoming work is available at www.diglososos.com along with other project information.

Waddell said the tenor of the comments has changed as people have observed the rate in which streets are unearthed and then repaved or resurfaced. Typically, the pipe installations take place over a couple of weeks on a given block before the contractors move on.

On a recent tour of several neighborhood roads in Los Osos and the Baywood Park business district, crews were in full swing digging 8- to 20-foot deep trenches.

The work involves shoring up the sandy soil in the cavities so crews can safely lay the main line of PVC piping, from which lateral sewer line extensions can connect to individual homes, Waddell said.

Cranes moved dirt around within feet of people eating their lunches at the popular Noi’s Little Thai Takeout eatery on Second Street in the Baywood Park neighborhood of Los Osos. The county has repaved most Los Osos streets and added new drainage in areas susceptible to flooding.

“Overall, we get a lot of positive comments,” Waddell said. “We’ve handled hundreds of calls. We get the complaints, too, from people who might be trying to take a nap and hear the machinery. But since the project started, and some people thought the world was ending, the volume of complaints has gone down.”

Locals weigh in

Several local residents and business owners expressed their support of the project despite the nuisances of noise and roadway obstructions.

Los Osos resident John Kennedy, 26, said “everyone should be happy” about the sewer construction.

“I’ve thanked the crews,” Kennedy said. “They’ve done a great job. If we don’t get this done, this town will smell bad and nobody will want to come here.”

Los Osos resident Myron Hood said he has waited for as long as 20 minutes while driving because of road delays. But he still supports the project even though he lives outside the sewer zone.

“Just getting around town, you run into it on certain streets,” Hood said. “I’ve had to wait. But I am in favor of the project.”

Diana Williams, owner of The Hairin Salon on 690 Santa Maria Ave. in Baywood Park, said she hopes to see slow growth after the sewer goes in and building may resume.

Williams built her business location before the building moratorium in the 1980s.

“I’m in favor of slow growth here,” Williams said. “I don’t want to see this area get too busy. I agree with some of the people coming here from a large area such as Los Angeles wanting slow growth.”