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North Auburn residents to protest sewer rate hike

Single families would pay $165 more annually to go regional
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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A North Auburn community meeting ended with some residents ready to mobilize a protest against the proposed sewer rate hike – but the half-filled room of about 20 people is going to need a lot of help if it wants to stop it from happening.

Placer County staff gave a presentation about the rate increase but mainly answered questions from the group gathered at the North Auburn Municipal Advisory Council meeting Tuesday night.

To fund Placer County’s cost to buy into the regional sewer project with the City of Lincoln, Sewer Maintenance District 1 customers’ monthly rates would be increased by $13.78 per equivalent dwelling unit, or EDU, which equates to one single family residence.

The message sent to North Auburn residents by some members of the MAC, which has opposed the regional sewer project, was to contact the Board of Supervisors and write letters of protest.

For a majority protest to block the rate increase, written protests must be submitted by the owners comprising of 3,930 EDUs – or 50 percent of SMD 1, plus an additional EDU – before May 7 or at the Board of Supervisors meeting that day.

North Auburn resident Robin Gallego distributed protest letters for people to fill out and also spoke with another concerned customer about picketing with signs to get the message across. Gallego, who lives off Luther Road, admits she thinks it’s unlikely the adequate number of protests will be filed, but says she’ll “absolutely” do her best to stop the rate hike.

“It’s my duty,” she said.

Gallego was part of the vocal majority at the meeting speaking out against the rate increase, and no one spoke favorably about the regional sewer project.

Starting July, increasing monthly rates from $82 to $95.78 for SMD 1 customers is required to fund construction and initial operation of the regional sewer project estimated to cost $73.2 million.

The project involves decommissioning the current, noncompliant SMD 1 treatment plant, constructing a pump station and 13 miles of pipeline from North Auburn to Lincoln and expanding Lincoln’s treatment plant to handle the additional wastewater.

Larry Farinha, a member of the North Auburn MAC board who won’t be affected by the hike because he’s hooked up to a septic tank, encouraged the protest and acknowledged the uphill battle it faces.

If a majority protest is achieved, the monthly rates will remain at $82 and the Board of Supervisors will be forced to evaluate other sewer options within the existing rate structure. Some solution has to be reached, because if the county does not meet regulatory requirements, the SMD 1 treatment plant may be subjected to fines of $204,000 per month.

Farinha said the two proposals rejected by the supervisors dealing with upgrades to the existing SMD 1 treatment plant on Joeger Road in North Auburn would have been viable options.

Both had less costly initial investments, but neither provided the long-term economies of scale, ability to remove treated effluent from local creeks and beneficial use of reclaimed water, according to Placer County staff.

“They could both be pursued, but at this point in time, the only way they are probably going to be pursued is if you folks, and unfortunately you’re a small group tonight, but if you folks don’t get up and protest and write those letters to stop this, it’s going to go forward,” Farinha said. “You have a mountain to climb. … One step at a time – get out and let people know.”

Shutting down the Joeger Road plant and going regional would result in the loss of some county sewer district utilities and environmental engineering jobs, said Bill Zimmerman, deputy director of the Placer County Facility Services Department.

“I’m concerned about people losing their jobs,” North Auburn resident Dolores Lehman said. “This is not a good time to lose a job, and now we’re going to send all our money to somewhere else and if there’s some way to improve what we already have and keep our people and our money here in our own community, I’m all for it.”

SMD 1 consists of about 5,300 residential EDUs and 2,600 commercial EDUs, Placer County Senior Engineer Dave Atkinson said, and one business can comprise of multiple EDUs according to how much strain it puts on the system.

The county mailed a letter to about 5,000 SMD 1 property owners in March notifying them of the May 7 Board of Supervisors public hearing on the proposed fee increase.

The rate increase is a based on an estimated cost as the final design is to be completed in June and that is also when the bidding process will start. Lincoln is charging Placer County $24 per EDU for the first five years for operating the regional sewer, and Atkinson said after that, he “wouldn’t bet against” customers’ rates increasing again.

The board voted last month to move forward on the project without the City of Auburn after the city demanded the county cover $18 million of its costs to participate.

However, the Auburn City Council voted Monday to draft a set of deal points for an agreement with Placer County to buy capacity and expand a common section of pipeline, leaving the door open for connection to the regional sewer at a later date.

 

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