Los Osos homeowner first to connect to sewer system

After four decades of challenging planning issues and political controversy, the first homeowner in Los Osos hooked up to the new sewer system Monday morning in a landmark moment that was shortly followed by the ceremonial first flush.

“I’m just glad it’s done,” said Robert Shipe, who lives on the 500 block of Highland Drive. “They’ve been talking about this for 40 years, ever since I was 7 years old.”

Shipe’s residence was among a group of 1,800 homes and businesses that were given the go-ahead by San Luis Obispo County to begin connecting their homes to the county’s long-awaited sewer project.

The homes include those along Los Osos Valley Road and south of the main thoroughfare, as well as the Sunset Terrace and Cuesta-by-the-Sea neighborhoods.

The county-led project has scheduled the hookups of homes to the sewer system in three phases. The Baywood Park area will make up the second and third connection phases, set to take place later this year.

Shipe, who served on a citizen’s technical advisory team, said that he spent about $250 on the PVC piping and other materials to tie into the sewer system. He also spent about two days digging and laying the pipe in preparation for the historic toilet flush, which took place a little after 9:15 a.m. Monday.

John Waddell, the county’s sewer project manager, said about 30 property owners have pulled permits to connect their pipes, and he believed Shipe to be the first to complete the job.

“He did it first thing this morning,” Waddell said. “I would be surprised if anyone beat him.”

Shipe, a financial adviser who also owns a janitorial business, only needed to apply plumbing adhesive and fit the ends of the PVC pieces at the connection points at the street main and to the lateral piping from his home near his backdoor.

By doing the work himself, he avoided having to pay a contractor an estimated $2,500. Some homeowners who need to connect toward the back of the home will be charged up to $10,000 for the contracting work.

“This is a huge relief,” Shipe said. “This has been a long time coming.”

Cease and desist

Shipe, who has owned his home since 2000, said he was one of a few dozen Los Osos residents randomly issued an order by the Regional Water Quality Control Board in 2006 to stop using his septic tank, noting that he was breaking the law.

Shipe, like others, had reached settlement terms on his case and was required to pump his septic tank every three years, when the county stepped in and took over the project to build the wastewater treatment system, delaying the legal action.

With his piping hooked up to the sewer, Shipe says he’ll channel rainwater from roof runoff to his decommissioned septic tank either for watering plants or to flow into the ground.

Shipe added that he feels the near-completion of the project will bring the town together, instead of creating divisions in a community that wrangled for years over whether a wastewater treatment system should be built and where.

“This is no longer something that’s hanging over the head of Los Osos,” Shipe said. “The community can now fully turn its attention to important matters like water reclamation and water sustainability.”

A difficult history

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

Objections to a project planned by the Los Osos Community Services District 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 CSD’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 the sewer under a plan brokered by former Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, a Republican from San Luis Obispo.

The treatment plant was built on a 24.5-acre site north of Los Osos Valley Memorial Park outside of town off Los Osos Valley Road.

In addition to paying the cost to connect to the main sewer line, residents will start being assessed for the cost to build the new sewer system. Those fees are estimated to be $165 per month and will be charged on a homeowner’s property tax bill. The first payment will be due in December.