Supes commit to Applegate-Winchester sewer-pipe link

$7.7 million project projected to solve long-term problems
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Placer County supervisors have given the OK to the construction phase of a $7.7 million regional sewer connection project for a small wastewater system in Applegate that has been a financial headache for the county for decades . The Board of Supervisors awarded a construction contract Tuesday to Sacramento’s T&S Construction to do the work to make the tie-in of 27 Applegate connections to the Winchester subdivision, and ultimately to the county’s Sewer Maintenance District No. 1 treatment plant in North Auburn. When the plant is closed and a pipeline starts moving sewage to the Lincoln plant as part of a regional wastewater project estimated to cost $73 million, the Applegate sewage from 36 dwelling units will be part of the larger system. Jim Durfee, director of the county Facility Services Department, said the work has long been contemplated as part of the overall regional approach. Supervisors approved moving forward on a regional link between North Auburn and Lincoln’s treatment plant last month, with the possibility of Auburn also entering into the partnership. Durfee said the Applegate pond-system, built in the 1970s, is a “poster child” for small systems running afoul of state and federal clean-water regulations. “There is a continuing outflow of funds to operate this small system,” Durfee said. Ratepayers pay $82 a month for operations and maintenance but the county would have to increase fees four or five fold to match costs, Durfee said. “Work includes upsizing some pipeline downstream of (the Winchester connection at Placer Hills Road) and that will allow us to take the ponds completely offline and resolve this problem,” Durfee said. Durfee provided a history of a small system with big costs. “The Applegate ponds exist because in 1972, the state of California widened I-80 and built a beautiful interchange where Applegate Road hits the freeway,” he said. “In the process of constructing that overpass, they eliminated a number of privately owned leech fields. The solution for that problem was to provide us with a small clean-water grant for a program that does not exist anymore.” With the money, the county constructed the Applegate pond system. “It became apparent very early on in the life of the system by the late 1980s that there was a lot of infiltration of spring water into the pond system and the system didn’t have the ability to contain all of the water, especially during the heavy winter rains,” Durfee said. There has been a moratorium of connections into the system since the late 1980s and the county has been dealing with the problem for decades, he added. “Now it’s absolutely impossible to meet discharge regulations in a system that small so we’ve been working for many years trying to come up with a solution,” Durfee said. “The recommended solution brings those efforts to fruition.” Wally Reemelin, a Meadow Vista resident and former president of the now-defunct League of Placer County Taxpayers, suggested an alternative to the Winchester tie-in. “This is a tunnel-vision approach to solving waste–treatment problems in Placer County,” Reemelin said. “In the final analysis it’s all going to Lincoln. This is going to SMD1.” Instead of spending $5 million, Reemelin suggested a sewer line coming down from Colfax that would take care of Applegate without a pump. The line would continue to Roseville, passing through the city of Auburn’s Ophir Road plant, he said. But Durfee said that a more appropriate route for Colfax would be to build a pipe to Placer Hills Road five miles to the east of Winchester and then travel over to the North Auburn plant. Durfee added that one of routes possible would be “side hilling” around Bear River Canyon. Estimated cost would be in the $40 million range, he said. The vote for the project contract was 5-0. Jerry Johnson, a candidate for the District 5 Board of Supervisors seat, was an early developer of the Winchester project. He said Wednesday that he attempted to convince the county about 20 years ago to allow him to oversize Winchester pipes for a tie-in to Meadow Vista and Applegate but found no support. Two decades later, the county is spending money to dig up roads in Winchester to increase the size of the sewer pipeline, Johnson said. “I support a regional system and it disappoints me that the county and the public works department said ‘no,’” Johnson said. “It shows we need to look long and hard to make a regional system that will work forever.” The construction contract is for $4.9 million but design, contingencies and other costs raise the total to nearly $7.7 million, according to county figures. The county has secured a $2.23 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to help defray costs.