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Council approves $28,000 for regional plant study

Auburn needs to think in terms of next 30 to 50 years, Mayor says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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By March Auburn residents could know how much they would be spending on their sewer bills if a regional wastewater treatment plant became a reality. Monday night the Auburn City Council unanimously approved $28,000 for a study the city of Lincoln is conducting on the regional possibility. The money is being paid out of one of Auburn’s sewer reserve funds, which contains just under $2 million and is currently earmarked for any regional sewer needs, according to Auburn City Manager Bob Richardson. Placer County has already committed $42,000 to the study. The most recent study conducted in 2010 resulted in Auburn’s share of the regional cost being projected at $46 million. Auburn put $17,000 toward this study. Bruce Burnworth, engineer for the city of Lincoln, said Monday night the city hopes to cut Auburn’s potential cost in half. “We would not be here if we did not think there were significant savings to be had,” Burnworth said Monday. Lincoln has already invested $12.2 million to upgrade its current plant to be ready to act as a regional plant. Lincoln’s current proposal for the potential project states that after five years, it would decide rate amounts for all homes and businesses running off the plant. Councilman Kevin Hanley said this was unacceptable, because the Lincoln City Council does not answer to Auburn residents, so it should not decide how much they would pay in sewer rates. Burnworth said the proposal was more of a concept that was still negotiable. Bernie Schroeder, Auburn Public Works Department director, said Auburn’s wastewater treatment plant is expected to be in full compliance with current wastewater requirements by February and will be for the next five years. Hanley said the city spent $6 million on the plant’s upgrades. Mayor Bill Kirby said Tuesday Auburn needs to think in terms of the next 30 to 50 years, not just the next five years. Kirby said he thinks the regional plant would be a very positive thing for the city as long as it didn’t substantially raise sewer rates. “It would be absolutely phenomenal if the numbers pencil out,” he said. “Sewage doesn’t care about city/county boundaries. If it’s not economically viable, or if the county backs out and decides to stay with their plant (on Joeger Road), that’s another issue.” Kirby said there is also the possibility of working with the county’s plant, which is not currently in compliance, to take some of the load off what would be going down to the plant in Lincoln. Schroeder said Monday the study is all about deciding what kind of future solution Auburn wants for its sewage. “Do we want to remain in the wastewater business … or do we want to determine a long-term solution?” Schroeder asked. “And would that be sending our wastewater to Lincoln? It’s always been the general consensus of the council that regional would be a long-term solution when it was affordable.” Hanley said affordability is one of his major concerns when it comes to the regional sewer. “I have big doubts on whether ultimately a regional sewer project will work for the city of Auburn,” Hanley said Tuesday. “The Auburn ratepayers are going to ask, ‘What are we going to get out of this?’ I will not vote for a regional sewer plan that raises our monthly rate from $56.25 to $80, $90, $100 or more, because the economic and environmental benefits are not at all clear. Supporters of the regional sewer plant idea argue that Auburn would have more ‘certainty’ regarding their rates. I’m worried that Auburn ratepayers would certainly end up with excessively high rates soon and into the future.” Cheryl Maki, a former Auburn mayor, said Tuesday she thinks it’s smart to go regional, because the Central Valley Regional Water Control Board and the California Department of Water Resources have so many ongoing requirements that would be hard for a small department to keep up with, and these requirements might be better handled by a regional plant. “That’s why I think they should go forward with the (study),” Maki said. “At least we will know exactly what the costs will be, and if we can’t afford it, we can’t do it.” Burnworth said Lincoln plans on having the proposed cost ready for Auburn to consider on Feb. 28. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com