Bouquets and Brickbats: Fine should not be burden on ratepayers

South County ratepayers had absolutely nothing to do with the December 2010 sewage spill at the Oceano wastewater treatment plant. So why burden them with a $1.4 million fine?

Strictly speaking, the fine — which is only a proposal at this point — would be imposed on the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District, which serves Oceano, Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach. But to pay it off, district officials say that rates would have to be raised and/or planned upgrades would have to be delayed. At a plant where maintenance already has been an issue — state officials allege the spill was caused by a short circuit in a control switch — putting off improvements doesn’t seem like the wisest course. In fact, it stinks. The state should be more concerned with preventing recurrences than punishing the district.

As for the sanitation district, its attitude has been less than conciliatory. Negotiations with the State Water Resources Control Board, which could have led to a less costly settlement, wound up in an impasse.

The trouble-plagued sanitation district is now vowing to vigorously defend itself and has retained a Sacramento-based attorney who specializes in water quality regulation and litigation. That’s in addition to its own legal counsel. So even if ratepayers are saved a whopping fine, they still could be saddled with substantial legal costs.

The district, by the way, isn’t denying that a spill occurred during a severe winter storm. The dispute is over the size of the spill. The state water board puts it at 1.1 million gallons; the district says it was less than half that — 400,000 gallons.

We aren’t taking sides on this highly technical issue — it will be up to the Regional Water Quality Control Board to listen to the evidence and make a decision — but no matter the outcome, we’re fed up with a system that could leave innocent ratepayers on the hook for an enormous fine.

If it comes to that, we’ll deliver a nice, round number of raw, untreated brickbats — let’s say 1.4 million — first to the sanitation district, and then to every other governmental agency that has a hand in soaking the ratepayers.

Morro Bay earns recognition

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently awarded Morro Bay one of four awards for excellence in coastal and ocean management.

The national award praised Morro Bay for working with commercial fishermen, The Nature Conservancy, and other coastal communities to preserve and restore the city’s fishing industry.

The partnership with The Nature Conservancy was not without controversy; many fishermen balked at working with the environmental group. However, with steps such as using less environmentally damaging equipment and creating and maintaining quotas for certain types of fish, catches from Morro Bay have doubled in value.

For this, we float to the city of Morro Bay and its fishermen and partners a sustainable seaweed bouquet for cooperation and a partnership that benefits the city, fishermen’s livelihoods and the environment.

Country club’s lost bunny found

We toss a welcome-home bouquet of leafy greens to Buggs the bunny, who came within a hair’s breadth of losing his digs at the fifth-hole fairway at the San Luis Obispo Country Club.

The pet rabbit, who belongs to country club resident Jim Bonzi, enjoys hanging out at the golf course during the day. But last week, a young man golfing there mistook Buggs for a runaway bunny, scooped him up and drove away.

When Buggs failed to return home, Bonzi mounted a search. He contacted neighbors; alerted the media; posted fliers with pictures of the gray-and-white rabbit; and offered a $50 reward.

All that sleuthing led to a hoppy ending: Buggs and Bonzi were reunited, and are doing fine.

Editorials are the opinion of The Tribune.