City Council further examines regional wastewater options

By: Jim Ruffalo Journal Correspondent
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With the clock ticking, the Auburn City Council voted unanimously Monday night to spend another month deciding whether to link up with the so-called regional sewer system at Lincoln, or to pay millions of dollars in upgrading its own local wastewater treatment plant. However, in making the 4-0 vote (councilman Keith Nesbitt was absent), the council was adamant that there were too many variables in the way of making a solid choice. During the discussion, City Engineer Jack Warren pointed out that while the regional plan may be the most feasible — and certainly the one that the state Regional Water Quality Control Board desires — there is still the question of whether the City of Lincoln’s recent faltering economy warrants such a choice. Or as Council Member Bill Kirby put it: “Regional is the best idea, but (Lincoln) is on life-support and I don’t see any CPR being administered.” As for the option of upgrading the wastewater plant, there’s still the problem of funding. Local ratepayers have already shown some hesitancy against massive rate increases that would accompany going with a local fix. Last month, Jim Durfee, county Facility Services Department director, said the cost for the upgrade would be $88.5 million. The Lincoln tie-in is estimated at $133 million if Auburn participates. If Auburn doesn’t, Durfee said another $8 million would be needed. City staff has estimated that the improvements to the existing treatment plant would cost roughly $12 million. The council explored the options of other funding, most specifically through the recently signed HR 1 (the Federal Economic Stimulus Package), but after Warren said that there is no date certain as to when those funds would be available. Council member Kevin Hanley saw another problem, especially when early indications were that about $500 million of federal funds would be available for the state specifically earmarked for wastewater treatment. “With costs as high as $100-million, I can’t see us getting a fifth of the state’s total money, not with so many Los Angeles and other big-city lobbyists in the way,” he said after the meeting. What Monday’s vote did was to send the issue back to the council for its March 23rd meeting for a final decision. In the meantime, Warren was instructed to continue gathering information, especially as to federal and State Revolving Fund (SRF) money, and to continue to explore the possibility of hooking up with Lincoln. Warren noted the city must be in compliance by March of 2011, or else face possible fines of $3,000 per occurrence. In commenting, the council said it was best to approach the state board and show good intent, and hope for an additional extension of the time limit for compliance. That board earlier granted the city a one-year extension. In other action: *A 4-0 vote was recorded to execute a 40-year lease with James A. Hanson Attorney, PC, Inc for the titled Road Bravo hangar project at the city airport. The project calls for the new building to house five separate “hangar storage” areas within one building, with the city taking title to all improvements when the lease expires. *A 3-1 vote (Kirby dissenting) turned down a Planning Commission recommendation that an individual council member could appeal a commission’s approval. The proposal’s wording called for no fee being charged for such a move, prompting Hanley and Bridget Powers to wonder if that could be used as an end run (by citizens) to get around proposed appeal fees. *A 4-0 vote directed the staff to prepare a draft of proposed operations and maintenance contract resulting in a three-year extension of the wastewater treatment plant’s operations contract with the consulting firm of Operations Management International. +