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Another View: My view of the regional sewer debate

By: Bob Snyder, guest columnist
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Mr. (Wally) Reemelin’s column of Dec. 2 was right about it being time for action on this long-running issue. But don’t bet the house on there being a fair debate between alternatives. At last week’s Meddlers meeting Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery expressed frustration that the two alternatives were hard to evaluate because they were not equally developed. How can this be, you ask? There have been investigations for over 10 years and the expenditure of $10 million on studies. I am not a casual observer and have followed the process closely for six years. While on the city council I served four years on the task force charged with evaluating the regional sewer and came to understand the clear advantages of sending our wastewater to a modern expandable treatment plant. By the way I am a retired civil engineer with experience in large-scale construction projects. So why is Ms. Montgomery having trouble? My observation would put the blame on the small cadre of county employees who steered the investigation and decided what studies would be done and when they would be done. One alternative, the regional treatment proposal, had many unknowns. All of these unknowns were investigated one at a time sequentially and it took years. When the costs were summarized they still had numerous uncertainties so huge contingencies were built in. Needless to say, the cost estimate was bloated and not attractive. Eventually the City of Lincoln cut through the folly and made a proposal that was realistic and worthy of consideration. Meanwhile the alternative to upgrade SMD-1 was handled smoothly by the county staff and the plans to upgrade were completed and even bid. So now the supervisors are faced with relative certainty with the SMD-1 upgrade and the regional alternative that is not as certain. Now please don’t assume I think there was a deliberate effort to sabotage the regional alternative. It wasn’t deliberate but very natural to have a bias toward the alternative that maintains the status quo. After all the upgrade keeps every thing just as it is, no jobs are lost since the county operates and maintains SMD-1 with county employees and no budgets are reduced. In addition the county staff doesn’t have to figure out how to manage the resulting joint task force. Less pain all around. Except for the fact that small plants like SMD-1 have had 800 percent more violations for illegal discharges than a large-scale plant such as Lincoln and always cost more to operate. If we are truly interested in the best solution, it is essential that we see through this bias and have a fair debate. Otherwise we will be stuck with the same managers that put the sewer rate at $82/month when Lincoln pays $32/month. It seems that they have designed a sewer system that literally flows uphill and we are stuck with the energy bill forever. And you might be in for a shock when you discover that the upgrade financing plan requires that the district grow by 60 percent to pay for the upgrade. That means for every two houses that exist now one more has to be built. I for one don’t see that happening. If the population doesn’t grow, guess who pays more to make it up? This is the kind of assumption that makes the upgrade look less costly compared to the regional. I wish the supervisors luck on this one. Their decision will hopefully give the ratepayers the best solution for the future. Bob Snyder is the chairman of the Auburn Planning Commission. --------------- Public meeting The Placer County Board of Supervisors will be hearing this item and providing direction to staff regarding these issues at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6 in the Community Development Resource Agency, located at 3091 County Center Drive in North Auburn.