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N. Auburn wastewater options facing resident cost concerns

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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With two expensive options being considered to comply with tightened state and federal water-quality rules, Supervisor Jim Holmes said fee-increase concerns were paramount at an informational workshop for North Auburn property owners held by Placer County earlier this week. The options for the county are a $141 million pipeline project to link North Auburn’s system to Lincoln’s wastewater treatment plant or an upgrade of the current Joeger Road plant, which would cost an estimated $87 million. Holmes said he counted almost 90 people at the workshop. With the possibility of the current $67.84 monthly fee more than doubling within 15 years using either option, Holmes said that there was animosity in the audience as county officials went over the two proposals. “People were upset,” Holmes said. “It’s a challenge we’ll have as the Board of Supervisors when the time comes to make a decision.” Holmes said the population in North Auburn includes many people on fixed incomes living in mobile-home parks. Paying higher fees will be a particular problem for them, he said. The supervisor, whose district takes in North Auburn, said that just how difficult it is for people to make payments hit home while he was in the auto repair business and delivered a car to a retiree in one of the North Auburn mobile-home senior’s parks. The woman he delivered it to was subsisting on crackers and water until her next Social Security check arrived, he said. Supervisors will be holding their own workshop on North Auburn options in January, with plans to come back in February for a vote on one of the two plans. In the meantime, at least 200 residents will be hearing from the county by the end of this month as it conducts a phone survey. People who take part in the survey will be asked whether they’re in favor of keeping sewer fees initially low and paying more in the future, or paying higher fees now so they won’t increase as fast later. Director Lowell Jarvis, the Auburn-area representative on the Placer County Water Agency board, attended the workshop and also noted that people questioned fee increases. Jarvis said the idea of having profits from the Middle Fork energy project spent on wastewater projects such as North Auburn’s continues to be discussed. But the agency’s perspective is that relicensing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by 2013 is a more immediate goal – especially when profits wouldn’t be available for allocation until at least five or 10 years afterward, he said. “We need to stay focused and unified instead of going sideways,” Jarvis said. As well as the phone survey, North Auburn residents can take an online survey or download a comment form at placer.ca.gov/SewerDecision. A comment form can also be requested by calling (530) 889-6846. Fee increases would likely be phased in beginning next spring. They’re assessed annually and included in property tax bills. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.