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Auburn, Placer County making progress in regional sewer talks

By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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The City of Auburn’s temporary regional sewer committee is reaching “rarified air” in discussions with Placer County about how to possibly move forward with the multimillion-dollar project.

At the heart of the discussion is how to reach a solution that would be in the best interest of the ratepayers not only in the City of Auburn, but also those in North Auburn in Sewer Maintenance District 1, said Dr. Bill Kirby, Auburn City Councilmember appointed to the committee.

“The wheels have started moving quicker and quicker,” said Kirby, also chairman of the Placer Nevada County Wastewater Authority. “So we’re making a lot of progress, and I would hope in the next few months we’re going to have a final answer.”

Discussions of a regional wastewater plant have been ongoing for a decade and the cost to the county is estimated at $73 million to have sewage from North Auburn go to a plant in Lincoln. If the City of Auburn joins in, estimates for the total project cost range from $90 million to about $100 million.

The project, a joint effort among the City of Auburn, City of Lincoln and the county, has yet to have a defined plan, decision on who will govern it and cost to rate payers. Users in North Auburn and the City of Auburn are facing adding $100 or more a year to their sewer bill while Lincoln residents are not expected to see an increase.

If Auburn enters the project, it would cost the city about $35 million, Kirby said. That’s $8 million more than what the cost estimate had been back in August when the project had been discussed at a Placer County Board of Supervisors meeting. The new number is based on an analysis by Auburn Public Works Director Bernie Schroeder, he said.

“We thought it was $27 million, but we were missing some of the pieces,” Kirby said.

Auburn’s wastewater treatment plant is currently in compliance with state standards, which is why increasing customer rates with a regional move would be undesirable, but with increasing regulations, it could eventually be cheaper to take the regional approach, the city has said.

“I am confident that an agreement should be reached that is in the best interest of the citizens of our community and their children and their children’s children, and protecting and keeping our environment healthy,” said Auburn City Councilmember Bridget Powers, who joins Kirby on the temporary committee that meets with supervisors Jennifer Montgomery and Jack Duran.

To avoid increasing Auburn’s rates by more than they’re already scheduled to go up, the city needs about $15 million in subsidies, Kirby said, with the disclaimer that it is a preliminary estimate. He has been impressed by the “creative” ideas presented by the supervisors in their discussions for how that could be achieved.

Some potential ways to reach that number include low-interest loans and savings from reclaimed water that would go back to Auburn, he said.

“Some of them are a million here, a million there,” Kirby said. “Obviously, if we got an interest rate deduction from 2.5 to 1 percent, that would be huge savings right there.”

Duran also pointed to reclaimed water as a potential option of what could be used in a financing package. Other ideas are still in their “infancy,” he said, and they’re looking at more than just Auburn, Lincoln and the county as the parties and beneficiaries of the regional project.

“There are some opportunities that we need to further develop that I think would end up making this really a broader group of folks getting together,” Duran said. “We’re hoping it’s something innovative and something nobody has ever had the courage to do, let’s just put it that way.”

Asked whether that could mean bringing more municipalities into the equation, he said “that’s a possibility.”

The next step is for the City of Auburn to meet with the county, City of Lincoln and their respective staffs to ensure everyone is working with the same numbers, Kirby said.

Lincoln City Councilmember Spencer Short, the city’s PNWA representative, said he was “a little bit surprised to hear that” as that has been done on an ongoing basis already.

“We’ve been doing that continuously through PNWA … making sure that everyone is on point as to what the numbers are, and making sure everyone has the same assumptions,” Short said. “Because if you start changing assumptions, the numbers do change.”

Without having the information directly in front of him, his account of what it will cost Auburn to enter the project varies from the $35 million Kirby indicated. Spencer said it would cost Auburn $27 million, the same estimate from back in August.

As for the county’s cost, it would be $63 million if Auburn joins the project, or $73 million without Auburn, Spencer said.

He said a draft of the environmental review has been delivered to the county. Included in that report will be surveys along the 20 miles of proposed pipeline and pump stations to evaluate the impact on that land and its ecology.

If the Mid-Placer Western Regional Sewer Project moves forward as proposed by the City of Lincoln, Placer County customers in unincorporated North Auburn, Lincoln and the City of Auburn would have their sewage treated at a plant off Fiddeyment Road in Lincoln.

It is currently used to treat Lincoln’s water and would need upgrades to handle added capacity from North Auburn and, possibly, Auburn.

Auburn’s temporary regional sewer committee formed in September and was extended by six months in December. So far, they have met three times with Montgomery and Duran, Kirby said.

“We’re going to present a plan to the elected bodies that regional sewer is successful and we can do it with a plan that protects our rate payers,” he said. “So my certainty right now (that that can be achieved) would be about 80 percent.”

 

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews