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Supervisors discuss wastewater options

Auburn City Council to request another extension from state water board
By: Jenna Nielsen, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County Supervisors saw their first glimpse Tuesday of a parallel dilemma the county faces along with the City of Auburn on what to do to in order to meet ever-tightening state and federal wastewater regulations. The City of Auburn, which for months has been mulling over whether to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant or connect to a regional plant in Lincoln in order to meet state water quality guidelines, must reach a decision by 2010. Placer County, which is facing a similar decision, must reach compliance by within months of the city’s deadline. Both jurisdictions face fines upward of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year from the Califor-nia Regional Water Quality Control Board, if guidelines such as reducing nitrogen, metals and pesti-cide levels, are not met. Jim Durfee, director of facility services with the county, told supervisors Tuesday that upgrading the county’s existing treatment plant would not be able to accommodate the Colfax area, but the re-gional solution could if the county could work with the city to build a pipeline to Auburn. Though no action was taken, a majority of supervisors expressed support for the regional solution. “Though it is going to be painful, I think the regional approach is our best option,” said Chairman Jim Holmes. “If we stay at home, that kind of leaves Colfax out of the picture.” Supervisors Robert Weygandt, Rocky Rockholm and Bruce Kranz agreed. Supervisor Kirk Uhler said he wasn’t ready to form an opinion Tuesday. “Of course I am worried about Colfax and the Applegate area,” Kranz said. “And we need to make it clear that the intention of this is to fix existing problems and not to give future development a free ride.” Auburn City Councilmembers and city staff have been waiting patiently to see what the board’s consensus will be, but not without moving forward with their own decisions. Emotions ran high over the issue during Monday night’s Auburn City Council meeting — at one point resulting in a heated exchange between Councilman Bob Snyder and Public Works Director Jack Warren. Snyder said he was frustrated with the city staff report, which contained a proposed letter to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board expressing the possibility of the city investing in purchasing capacity in an existing sewer trunk line that was constructed between Sierra College and Highway 193 and the Lincoln Plant. Snyder said investing in the line was an absolute, which Warren argued wasn’t the case. “Is this a prudent way to be spending our citizens’ money?” Snyder asked. “(Purchasing capacity) because that’s what it says in the (report). I think we need to be giving this thing a chance and not stacking the deck against it.” Warren responded, “No, it says we could invest,” and “It never says that, it never says that,” over Snyder’s terse comments to the contrary. Mayor Keith Nesbitt had to step in and break the exchange. “I think this is getting a little too personal,” Nesbitt said. “I think we need to tone it down a little bit — let’s not get into an argument.” Snyder said Tuesday that he apologized to Warren and that he shouldn’t have had the conversation in a public forum. He expressed his frustration with wanting to find the best option for ratepayers in the future. “I think we need to have a fair hearing on the regional option,” Snyder said. “Only a fair hearing will produce the best and least cost option for residents in the future. And that is why I get frustrated and agitated — this is probably the biggest decision the council will make in the next 15 years.” The decision is one that other councilmembers and the public should not expect to come quickly. “There are new players coming to the table at different times and new options,” Snyder said. “Closing the door on the regional solution is a mistake today. It is premature to say we don’t need to talk about this anymore.” Auburn City Councilmembers voted 4-1 to request an additional four-to six-month time extension on the city’s discharge permit in order to allow time for Placer County and the City of Lincoln to explore financing alternatives with Auburn and to complete a geotechnical investigation for the pro-posed regional-trunk-line route. As a sign of good faith to show the city is serious about the regional option, the city chose to stop design work on its existing treatment plant. Councilman Kevin Hanley voted no. Hanley said he wanted to move ahead with onsite improve-ments. “I feel like we have been getting good information on this subject and I don’t think I have heard any new significant information tonight.” In a decision reached earlier this year, the state board agreed to grant the city an extension until 2010 to reach compliance by making on-site improvements and until 2013 if it decides to connect to the regional pipeline. The council also voted under the same resolution to request the city’s discharge permit be reopened to allow for the application of current criteria, which actually would result in less stringent require-ments than the existing permit. “Basically, this sends the message to the water quality control board that we are still in the regional game and that we are taking a chance on fines and penalties to show our support for the regional project,” Warren said. The City Council voted last fall to stop design work on its existing treatment plant and move to-ward connecting to the Lincoln pipeline, which originally had a completion schedule far beyond the compliance date. Officials estimate connecting to Lincoln would cost the city roughly $53 million and making im-provements to the existing wastewater treatment plant would cost roughly $12 million. Long-term, however, the regional plant might be less expensive than the local facility because of ever-tightening state and federal regulations. City sewer fees were increased to $52.50 per equivalent dwelling unit last June to compensate for on-site improvements. Fees would need to be increased again if the city decides to go regional, possi-bly to more than $100 per month within in the next few years, according to estimates. Placer County staff estimates onsite improvements could cost up to $87 million once bond sale and engineering costs and construction contingencies are factored in. The total costs for the regional proj-ect could reach $123 million, according to staff estimates. “The City of Auburn has been right in the middle of this,” Weygandt said during Tuesday’s meet-ing. “I want to say thanks to the other jurisdictions including the City of Auburn and Public Works Director Jack Warren for all their work. The disparity of (Auburn’s) rates is far greater than the county’s and raising those rates is not easy.” The Journal’s Jenna Nielsen can be reached at jennan@goldcountrymedia.com or comment on this story at auburnjournal.com.