Morro Bay discusses buying Hwy. 41 parcel for sewage plant

The city of Morro Bay is in talks with a property owner to consider buying 10 to 15 acres along Highway 41 that could be the site of its new sewage treatment plant and water reclamation facility.

Formal negotiations haven’t begun yet, and the city hasn’t ruled out other locations for the multimillion-dollar facility.

City officials are calling the preferred site Rancho Colina, located outside the city limits on the north side of Highway 41, east of Mission Drive near the Rancho Colina mobile home community. The site is about two miles inland.

The property owner, Steve MacElvaine, is interested in negotiating with the city on the sale of the property, according to an extensive report Atascadero-based planning consultant John Rickenbach compiled for the Morro Bay City Council.

After hearing Rickenbach’s report, the council voted Tuesday to create a memorandum of understanding that will help lay out the goals for the city and MacElvaine, as well as a potential negotiation timeline.

“Up until now, we’ve had discussions with Mr. MacElvaine, but nothing has been put in writing,” Councilwoman Christine Johnson said. “A memorandum of understanding would at least help us form a partnership that will establish a working relationship.”

Rickenbach recommended the city pursue Rancho Colina as Morro Bay’s top option for a variety of reasons.

The site is out of view of residents; it’s in close proximity to many agricultural fields that could potentially buy reclaimed water; and it could replace a small, aging privately-operated sewer treatment plant that serves 106 units of the mobile home park located about 1,000 feet northeast of the proposed area.

“Rancho Colina has a very receptive property owner, and that’s unique among all the sites in that he’s willing to work with the city,” Rickenbach said.

The city estimates the cost to build a plant would be about $75 million. That doesn’t include the cost to buy the property.

MacElvaine has 187 total acres of property there, most of it ranchland. But the city would purchase only 10 to 15 acres.

Three other site options presented by Rickenbach, also estimated to be 10 to 15 acres, include:

  • An area outside city limits in Morro Valley owned by Paul Madonna and referred to as the Righetti property, located about 1,100 feet east of homes on Nutmeg Avenue and Ponderosa Street;
  • Land outside the city limits in Chorro Valley, owned by Tri-W Enterprises, about 1,600 feet to the south of the Casa de Flores senior complex; and
  • An area in the city limits near Little Morro Creek Road owned by J & E Giannini Properties, about 650 feet from the homes on Hillcrest Drive.
  • None of those property owners has expressed the same level of interest as MacElvaine in selling land to the city, Rickenbach said.

    City Councilman Noah Smukler said that he and other council members visited the Rancho Colina site and took note of its potential fit as a sewage plant site.

    “I support Rancho Colina as a top site,” Smukler said. “Rancho Colina has a number of potential benefits. It’s very enticing.”

    Speaking to its proximity to dozens of nearby properties that could buy reclaimed water, Rickenbach said that nearby avocado farmers have been trucking in water this year because drought conditions have reduced well water.

    He estimated the city could sell about 1,200 acre-feet of reclaimed water per year to nearby ranchers.

    Morro Bay must relocate its sewage treatment plant because the California Coastal Commission rejected city plans last year to replace the aging facility at its current location near the beach on Atascadero Road.

    In addition to moving forward with Rancho Colina, the city voted to form a seven-member advisory committee to give input on the treatment plant’s development process.

    The council also will continue exploring a potential shared partnership with the county, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and Cayucos Sanitary District in building the new wastewater treatment facility near the California Men’s Colony.

    The advantages of the prison site is that several local agencies could share in its use, but its estimated cost of $160 million and distance from many potential buyers of reclaimed water are drawbacks.

    Rickenbach said his team hopes to have answers for the city on the viability of the Men’s Colony project by August.

    Another consultant, Mike Nunley, said the council’s five-year time frame to complete the treatment plant is possible, though ambitious.

    Nunley outlined a busy schedule in which the city would select its site by September, conduct a facility master plan thereafter, and pursue its regulatory and financing tasks to start building by February 2016.

    Nunley warned a hard deadline of five years could reduce flexibility in planning and financing.