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Another View: Time is now to act on waste treatment

By: Wally Reemelin, guest columnist
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We in Placer County are facing a major challenge of a way to solve our waste treatment problems that loom over our cities and communities, and at the same time have the opportunity the times present us with unique circumstances to address these issues in a reasonable and constructive manner. We should grasp the moment. The State Water Resources Control Board is currently fining the County SMD-1 plant $15,000 a month as penalties for not complying with the water quality rules the state has established, or having plans to address new quality guidelines. Looking into the future the political clout of environmentalists, and public health needs, will levy additional stringent rules such that merely upgrading plants at Colfax and at SMD-1 will ensure that such measures become only a temporary band-aid that will be unable to expand to cope with future rulings for effluent discharge into creeks. In the 1980’s Placer faced a similar problem with septic waste treatment and disposal. The conventional wisdom espoused by the county public works department, when told by the state to close the Roseville evaporating ponds that were in danger of contaminating groundwater, public works proposed building a new $8 million plant at the expense of septic tank owners to a cost of $4,000 each. I took a different view and suggested using a portable treatment machine from Denmark, available through an agent here in California. Upon testing, the Danish machine very adequately did the job. The county negotiated an operating contract with the agent with no up-front cost, and that equipment has been treating septic waste for Placer and for Nevada County since 1992. No $8 million cost and no created bureaucracy to manage the operation. Lincoln has proposed expanding its waste treatment facilities in cooperation with Auburn, but leave Colfax and Applegate out in the cold. The Lincoln presentation to the county in February met with some skepticism as to its costs and some design factors. The proposal had Lincoln “in charge” of the facilities and operation. One of Lincoln’s consultants has a past history for somewhat rosy projections that in practice do not pan out satisfactorily and within budget. This skepticism by Auburn and the county, perhaps warranted, of the Lincoln-Auburn waste treatment proposal and who would be “in charge” leads me to suggest an opportunity to look elsewhere for a common-ground answer to proceed ahead to get the project done. The South Placer MUD, headquartered in the central part of the county, has been successfully and economically operating a facility that serves the waste of Loomis and Rocklin and pipes it to Roseville for treatment there. Charles Clark, General Manager of SPMUD, is well aware of the challenges and opportunities presented by a more countywide waste disposal sister. Clark has indicated that SPMUD is able and willing, if asked, to operate a countywide waste treatment including an expanded Lincoln plant. If Lincoln will recognize the job-creating award of an expanded treatment facility in its area, and Auburn and the county find the capable operational history of SPMUD a strong endorsement for it to take the helm, then a reasonable answer is at hand. Inspection of the Colfax and the Auburn Ophir waste treatment plants and the discussions with the operators, as well as Dan Montgomery, Supervisor of Placer Utilities Division, have indicated the Ophir facilities can accept and process the Colfax waste satisfactorily. Ophir operator, Gary, agreed this was doable. Financing opportunities exist: A low cost (2.2 percent interest) bridge loan from the state to finance the pipe route surveys and approvals, environmental reviews, etc., should be considered, according to Jenine Windeshausen, treasurer-tax collector. Then a long term bond construction fund financed by a portion of the county income from the water-generated electric power sales of the relicensed American River Project. That funding should become available in about 2014 when actual construction work could be underway and would still be able to take advantage of the lower costs of labor and materials currently available due to the economic down-turn. These timely cost advantages will likely continue for perhaps the next five years. The opportunity is now here. Placer must accept the challenge and act. Wally Reemelin founded and lead the Placer County Taxpayers watchdog group for nearly 40 years, and tackled several local issues including whether to regionalize wastewater treatment.