Placer supes confront commitment issues on costly North Auburn sewer

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County’s sewer solution for the North Auburn area is going Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors with no clear favorite. Supervisors Jim Holmes and Robert Weygandt – the two board members on the Wastewater Management Working Group – want different plans. And the Wastewater Management Working Group, which includes CEO Tom Miller and Facility Services Director Jim Durfee, will be making no specific recommendation and leaving it up to the five supervisors Tuesday to take the next step toward committing from $62 million to as much as $92.5 million to meeting Regional Water Quality Control Board regulatory requirements. Holmes, who represents a portion of North Auburn in the Sewer Maintenance District 1 catchment area, said he’s comfortable with a Wastewater Management Working Group decision to not make a specific recommendation. Instead, the group has outlined the costs and logistics of the two competing plans and presented the alternatives to move forward on. They are: n Proceed with a regional solution for the district to build a pipeline for effluent to flow from North Auburn to the city of Lincoln treatment plant, located near Thunder Valley Casino. The cost range estimated in the county report is between $91.6 and $139.3 million, with the county paying an estimated $64.5 million to $92.5 million. n Award a bid now on the table for an upgrade and expansion of the current North Auburn plant. That project would cost an estimated $62.3 million. Holmes said that because the issue is over policy, he can understand why it will be heard at Tuesday’s meeting without a recommendation from the working group, Miller or Durfee. “They don’t want to be caught in the crossfire,” Holmes said, admitting that staff can make recommendations on policy issues. “But they can give us all the information they can to make a decision on policy.” Weygandt, who represents the Lincoln area, favors the so-called regional plan and stated in a recent presentation to the Lincoln City Council that in his mind “there are huge inherent benefits in regionalizing vs. upgrading.” Weygandt says that the pipeline from Auburn to Lincoln would result in protection for salmon and other fish in the Auburn Ravine and Coon Creek, while the Lincoln plant provides more room for further expansion. Holmes said that in the six years on the board, the regional solution vs. plant upgrade issue has been one of the most difficult to resolve. With the opportunity to award a bid Dec. 13 to start the upgrade, Holmes said the time is right to make a decision in favor of that project. Time is becoming an issue. The county is currently incurring penalties of about $15,000 a month but that could increase to $204,000 a month in 2015 if North Auburn outflows are still not meeting state and federal standards. The regional recommendation involves taking more time to make a final decision. Staff would have until March 13 to come back to the board with a recommendation for a final commitment on whether to go ahead with the pipeline. “We need to make a decision,” Holmes said. “We need something in place by 2015.” Auburn waiting in wings Sitting on the sidelines but a potentially important player from a funding point of view, the city of Auburn could become a partner in the regional plan, dropping the costs for Placer County. Councilman Kevin Hanley said there is no official city position but individual council members have stated their own views. The last solid debate was in 2006 and since then, the city has moved ahead with a $5 million upgrade at its own plant in Ophir, he said. “We have a modern capable plant that can absorb future capacity for growth in the city,” Hanley said. “It’s in their court now.” While not specifically identifying another project, the Wastewater Management Working Group left open the possibility of a third option. PERC Water has provided the county with a detailed proposal to build an entirely new facility in North Auburn for a guaranteed cost of $51 million. Rob Aragon, a waste management consultant based in Lincoln, said he’ll be at Tuesday’s meeting to present the PERC Water plan. “I think we’ve delivered a very compelling transparent offer to the county,” Aragon said. “Looking at capital costs alone, it’s half the cost of the regional solution and $15 million less than upgrading a 50-year-old asset.” ------------------------------------------- Sewer soundoff What: Regional vs. upgrade sewer solution debate and possible decision Where: Community Development Resource Agency, 3091 County Center Drive, North Auburn When: 9:30 a.m. Tuesday