The Cambrian

State panel puts off desal test hearing

C ambria services district directors on March 25 put off further review of plans to do geological testing on a Cambria beach until after the state Coastal Commission has a chance to consider the Army Corps of Engineers’ claim that it does not need to prepare an environmental assessment.

As of Monday, March 29, the commission was tentatively due to review on April 15 in Ventura the Army Corps’ 17-page “Coastal Consistency Determination” dated Dec. 21. As a federally funded program, the testing project is subject to the National Environmental Policy Act. If no local permits are involved, then neither are California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements, according to

Tom Luster, a commission staff member.

There is a “big jurisdictional issue,” according to Tim Carmel, CCSD district counsel.

As of Tuesday, March 30, the word “postponed” had been attached to the commission agenda item. No immediate response was received to inquires by The Cambrian regarding who requested the postponement and why.

Cambria Community Services District (CCSD) directors originally called a special meeting Jan. 5 to consider filing a notice of exemption from CEQA with the county for the testing.

After 11 members of the public expressed concerns about environmental impacts of the testing, the board voted to file an environmental report.

On Jan. 14, CCSD filed with the county a proposed

“negative declaration” — the lowest of three levels of

environmental reviews — which is used when there is no substantial evidence that a project may have a significant effect on the environment.

Adoption of that report was put off at the district’s Feb. 25 board meeting and postponed again March 25, both times on unanimous votes. The board is now expected to take the issue back up again at its next monthly meeting on April 22.

The $733,000 tests, paid for with federal funds, are designed to find out if enough seawater could be pulled from under the shoreline near the mouth of Santa Rosa Creek to supply a planned desalination plant.

A full environmental impact report would be required for that plant, which would be located away from the beach.

At the March 25 district meeting, directors took comments from nearly two dozen people, some of whom said they’d never before spoken to the board. Most said they support the district’s plan to install a desalination plant to provide the town with extra water, especially during droughts.

Jim Crescenzi of Cambria said “I very strongly support the desalination plant initiative and all the studies and prerequisite steps to achieving the goal of a viable, long-term water supply for Cambria.” He called arguments against desalination, “contrived protests against any growth,” producing, in part, “a drop in local employment and the stagnant local economy.” He said, “I also strongly support the right of lot owners with water positions to build on their lots in a reasonable time frame, even if that is 15 years out….”

Mike Dill of UnLOC (United Lot Owners of Cambria) talked about cyclical weather impacts to the beach being more destructive than anything the test program could do. He said the lot owners “have legal right to build on our lots. We are not going away.” He said, to applause, “At the beginning of every meeting, we stand and pledge our allegiance. The four final words in the pledge are ‘in justice for all.’ Where is the justice for the lot owners?”

Real estate broker Richard Breen said conflict over the issue is “starting to resemble what Los Osos is going through” about installing a sewer system,” with a “pull-up-the-drawbridge mentality.”

Lot owners “would love to sue CCSD for not being able to do anything but weed whack these lots and pay their taxes.” He added, “It makes me sad to see this division.”

Others expressed concerns about environmental issues, asked for answers about desalination costs and stressed the need for the board and the public to come together and exchange information and ideas.

Steve Figler of Cambria asked for details on the federal funding for the desalination project, and what annual maintenance and operating expenses would be for it and alternative projects. He asked the board to provide answers, rather than suggesting questioners consult the district’s Water Master Plan (http://bit. ly/cdesal, click on “documents”) .

Harry Farmer, a 23-year Cambria resident, suggested that people on both sides of the argument spend a Saturday “at Shamel Park, on the beach. We’ll put our feet on the sand, assess the issue among us in a non-confrontational manner. We all need to speak one-on-one, get to know each other’s points of views.”

He also suggested a five-hour Saturday forum on desalination and other options.

Valerie Bentz said “we still don’t have a good cost-benefit analysis on what good alternatives would cost us and how viable they are.” She asked about gray-water systems, conserving water in tanks and using pools to hold water for use in dry seasons. “There seem to be a lot of resources we’re not putting effort into.

She also said “I love the idea of all of us getting together with an impartial facilitator… I plead with you, give us the time, give us a day.”

Director Frank DeMicco said, “Since the Corps is putting this project together, they will make the necessary investigations. If there’s no issue to mitigate, they won’t mitigate.”

He said, “Our groundwater is dependent on creek wells, taking water out of a drainage basin, which is dependent on rain,” as are most alternative water sources. “Reservoirs and dams can’t be done because of environmental impacts.”

He explained that the tests are to show what kind of sands, soils and water are at the site, and if a plant intake would affect creek levels. Effects from the tests would be transitory and would “have no residual effect on the environment,” he said. “A storm in October blew out about 200 to 300 feet of beach in a few hours,” much greater effect than the temporary influence of the tests.

Greg Sanders, board president, contested an “inference that a number of public agencies oppose geotech (tests). That’s not true. A number have commented, and it’s up to the Army Corps to find ways to mitigate” any concerns.

Director Muril Clift thanked the commenters. “For many of you, it’s not a comfortable feeling to stand at that podium and express feelings.