The Cambrian

Board may set desal town hall

C ambria’s proposed desalination plant could cost about $20 million, including $3 million to pay for a solar-power credit to offset the plant’s energy use.

The actual solar power facility would not be located in Cambria.

Greg Sanders, president of the Cambria Community Services District board, also said at a July 22 board meeting that he expects the plant, which could produce about 602 acre feet of water a year, could be paid for with federal funds, increased connection fees and possibly a $2.5 million cash payment from a group of lot owners whose properties are on a water wait-list.

He said the plant’s “cost largely revolves around the technology” used and that, if need be, “there’s a strong likelihood we can finance this plant without federal financing (and) without impacting the ratepayers.” In-

creased connection fees and a possible one-time $2.5 million pay-in by members of United Lot Owners of Cambria, among those whose 666 lots are on the district’s water-wait list, could pay for the plant, Sanders said.

However, Director Frank DeMicco, an engineer on water and other municipal projects, said, “You cannot take a basic services facility and only have it paid for by new customers. It has to be paid for by the entire customer base.”

As the district and community wait for an updated desalination contract with the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), and for results from test wells due to be drilled near the mouth of Santa Rosa Creek in September or October, some people — including a couple

of district directors — are clamoring for more details now.

At the July 22 meeting, directors ultimately seemed to agree to host a town-hall meeting about desalination in early fall, perhaps in October or November. But, ecause the item wasn’t on the agenda, the board couldn’t confirm the forum.

However, two directors sharply questioned Sanders about financial and environmental costs of desalination, along with other details.

When DeMicco and Allan MacKinnon were elected to the district board two years ago, they said they supported Cambria’s desalination plans. Neither appears to have backed off that position, but each is pressuring for more detailed information, especially for the public.

“My hope is we will do the project,” MacKinnon said. But, “we have to define what in fact we want the project to be, after we get this benchmark,” from test wells on the beach, which are to determine the quality and quantity of seawater available there.

Sanders said the district plans to use an undersea intake to supply the plant, “technology that’s rather unique in terms of desal plants,” especially with the shoreline’s complicated geology. So the test results need to be in hand, he said, before costs and other details can be sharpened to a fine point.

DeMicco said, “The best information available is what’s in the master plan.”

Sanders agreed, but when he suggested that staff update the desalination information sheet for the board’s monthly meeting on Aug. 19, Director Muril Clift suggested they wait until ACE completes its initial testing period of about two months.

“I think we’ll have some general information at that point,” Clift said. “We won’t know exact finances, but we’ll at least have a starting point. You want a better, clearer picture of what we want, if everything turns out the way we want it to be.”

Sanders said the delay in getting ACE’s approval on the updated contract, which has been in the works for years, is “inexcusable, like a Greek tragedy … We’re somewhat at the mercy … of the Corps. We’re trying everything we can to move this along.”

Sanders and district General Manager Tammy Rudock met in Los Angeles June 30 with the incoming ACE commander, Col. Mark Toy, and his team. Rudock said July 22 that “it was a good progress meeting,” with “a lot of energy. They’re really wanting to be part of this project.”

She also said that she’s coordinating with State Parks and the county for rights of entry for the test-well project, and that the updated contract, which gives the district local-match credit for $3 million previously spend on desalination studies and planning, is under review at ACE headquarters in Washington, D.C.