Placer County supervisors hedge bets on stimulus solving sewer woes

By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County is pumping money into a North Auburn sewer treatment plant upgrade while seeking federal funding for a pricey regional wastewater pipeline from North Auburn to Lincoln. No decision has been made to commit to either the $133 million Lincoln tie-in or the $88.5 million Joeger Road plant upgrade. But Jim Durfee, county facility services director, told supervisors at Tuesday’s board meeting that moving ahead on a no-bid contract with design firm Owen Psomas would signal to water-quality officials that efforts were continuing to move the North Auburn plant into compliance with new standards. Supervisors agreed to a contract with Owen Psomas for just less than $500,000 to work on a preliminary design for the upgraded plant. The board also authorized staff to start the environmental approval process on the work. But Durfee said that with federal stimulus money available for projects like the Lincoln pipeline, the work could be stopped at any time and shifted away from the plant upgrade. Both projects would serve the North Auburn area’s Sewer Maintenance District 1, which is facing fines from the Regional Water Quality Control Board and possible lawsuits because the 48-year-old facility doesn’t comply with current federal and state discharge standards. “It puts $400,000 at risk but staff believes it demonstrates that we’re on the road to compliance,” Durfee said. “We’re hedging our bets.” Durfee added that his department is holding off on a final recommendation about whether to build the pipeline link or upgrade the plant. That would come after the county has a clear picture on whether it will gain a share of federal economic stimulus funds for the more expensive pipeline project. Asked by Supervisor Robert Weygandt if the county stood to lose the full $500,000 of the contract if the regional wastewater option moved forward, Durfee said that the work would take five or six months and spending would be month-to-month. If work doesn’t move forward, the county and the district face mandatory penalties from the state board of $10,000 to $20,000 a year, with discretionary penalties much higher, Durfee said. He cited the case of the city of Colfax, which was recently hit with a $550,000 fine that was later reduced to $350,000. In addition, the county would also face a lawsuit from organizations filing third-party litigation over clean water issues. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at .