Synopsis: The California Coastal Commission requested it and so did many residents in their comments following two public workshops on the proposed Morro Bay-Cayucos wastewater treatment plant, and now a list and evaluation of alternative sites for the plant are being released to the public.
A list of long-sought alternative sites for the proposed new Morro Bay-Cayucos wastewater treatment plant is scheduled to be released to the public in response to the California Coastal Commission's finding that multiple sites for a new plant must be evaluated before the commission would consider approving the multi-million dollar project.
The release of the list comes after more than 100 residents were nearly unanimous in siding with the commission and demanding the same thing following two public workshops on the plant in June. (Residents who submitted comments turned out to be surprisingly well-informed and in agreement on what most consider the key issues involving the new wastewater treatment plant. See highlights of what they had to say at the conclusion of the article.)
Instead of examining multiple sites, the Morro Bay City Council and Cayucos Sanitary District board (CSD) last January submitted only one—next to the existing plant off Atascadero Road fronting on Estero Bay, which the Coastal Commission staff had informed the city—both in 2008 and last year—would be unacceptable and which the commission rejected on March 11, not only because other sites had not been considered but because the proposed site is in 100-year flood plains and in a tsunami inundations zone. (See: Slo Coast Journal / March 2011).
"The City's approval (of the proposed plant project) is fundamentally flawed," the commission staff report had said, "in that it lacks a thorough alternatives analysis that evaluates a broad range of alternatives, including fundamentally in terms of alternative appropriate sites, such as is required to be able to find a WWTP (wastewater treatment plant) project consistent with the LCP (city's Local Coastal Plan) and the Coastal Act."
In response to the Coastal Commission's requirement, a "rough screening alternative sites evaluation report" is scheduled to be posted on the city's website (Morro-bay.ca) on September 1 or shortly afterward, city attorney Rob Schultz said. Then, it will be discussed at the next joint meeting of the city council and the Cayucos Sanitary District board (who own and operate the WWTP under a Joint Powers Agreement) in Morro Bay on Thursday, September 8, at the Morro Bay Community Center, he said.
"All sites (17) that were identified during the public environmental and CCC (California Coastal Commission) appeals processes, as well as through public workshops and the related public comments, are included within this rough screening analysis," Schultz said. The report will provide "an initial assessment and fatal flaws analysis of potential project sites identified during the public environmental and CCC appeals processes, and through input received at public workshops commencing the preliminary analysis (or rough screening)."
The list is being prepared by Dudek engineering, which was hired to conduct an alternatives analysis and develop a WWTP project that the Coastal Commission staff will accept. More public workshops will be held on the alternative sites, but the dates have not been set, Schultz said.
These are the sites that are expected to be on the screening list and which were submitted by the Surfrider Foundation last December:
—Whale Rock Reservoir vicinity in Cayucos
—Chevon oil facility near the Morro Bay and Cayucos border at Highway 1
—Seventeen acres on Highway 41 located 1.75 miles east of Highway 1
—Chorro Valley site reviewed in the EIR
—The 10-acre Hayashi and 12-acre Giannini properties one-half mile east of Highway 1 and just south of Highway 41
—The Morro Bay Power Plant property
—The old PG&E tank farm plus adjacent city property, both located .66 miles northeast of the present WWTP
The city's rejected plant site on Estero Bay also is expected to be on the list, possibly with the "fatal flaws" that the Coastal Commission and its staff found with it.
The post-workshop comments of residents not only urged identification of alternative sites but overwhelmingly rejected the city's proposed Estero Bay-front site that the Coastal Commission also rejected. Most also urged the construction of a WWTP that would have the capability of producing water suitable for refurbishing the aquifers that serve the city's wells, which have been mostly depleted, and would make the wells productive again. The Coastal Commission staff in its reports has pointed out that productive wells would allow the city to reduce or discontinue reliance on expensive state water that may not always be available.
Some residents also requested more information about the plant planning process and said they were disappointed in the workshops because of information deficiencies. Others called on the city and CSD to "work cooperatively, not antagonistically, with the Coastal Commission," as Marlys McPerson put it.
Some opposed the hiring of a lobbyist, Susan McCabe, presumably to persuade the commission to accept what the city and CSD suibmitted. "I strongly object to using my money to pay a lobbyist. It makes more sense to me to take the Coastal Commission's objections to heart, and work with them to get this project on the road, as opposed to trying to make them 'see things our way,'" said Nicole Dorfman.
McCabe's contract with Morro Bay and Cayucos pays her $1,000 an hour, including $350 for an aide, with a cap of $12,500 a month plus expenses for a one-year term, Dennis Delzeit, WWTP project manager, said in May (See: Slo Coast Journal / June 2011) when the city and CSD authorized suspension of her contact at least until Dudek develops a new WWTP plan for submission to the Coastal Commission. Schultz said the contract has been suspended.
Some residents also criticized the time it has taken the city and CSD to get to this point in planning the WWTP. " . . . get it done asap," Brenda Agee said. "I spoke about this five years ago at a joint meeting in Cayucos. Why haven't we gotten it done by now?" Many have puzzled over that question.
Here are some of the edited comments of residents:
I urge the JPA to remain open-minded on the issue and direct staff and consultants to consider the following:
• Do not limit inquiry to a pre-determined, small number of sites as potential locations for a new sewer so the alternative options fail before they have a chance;
• Look at all sites co-equally, not give extra points to either where the plant is now or whether it would require land acquisition;
• Do not get hung-up on who owns alternative property, its current land use or the likelihood of acquiring it—the City and the JPA have options that include sale, trade and concessions that can make a deal happen if a site is otherwise desirable;
• Work with the Coastal Commission. They are not the enemy. They just want to see that the JPA is sincerely considering reasonable alternatives— and listening to citizens about what we want;
• Do not limit the search for alternative sites to the city limits.
Cayucos is unincorporated and this is a JPA: sites on county land can work. Many municipalities’ sewer plants in California are in unincorporated areas;
• No matter what, please, please, please do not consider a plan which attempts to mitigate the impacts of the present site by revisions that cause us to have to do this again in 15 years or so or gives up the water reclamation, biosolids composting and other features so critical to the needs of this community entering an era of sea water rise and dwindling fresh water.
(The property labeled) APN 068.401.011 is out Little Morro Creek road (and should be considered as a site). It is on the south side of the road right where it makes a 90 degree left hand turn. It is across from the Hayashi property (and) is within the city limits and is above the flood zone. The site is on hard ground with some rock showing, so it will not have foundation problems. (This may be the Giannini property cited by Surfriders.)
As a Morro Bay citizen and tax payer I am dismayed by the JPA’s decision to retain a lobbyist to work as a middleman between us and the Coastal Commission. This is a small community with limited funds and while I am very willing and able to pay additional costs for relocating the plant to a more appropriate location, I strongly object to using my money to pay a lobbyist. It makes more sense to me to take the Coastal Commission's objections to heart, and work with them to get this project on the road, as opposed to trying to make them "see things our way."
We need to design a plant that does not use ocean outfall as this will likely be banned in the near future. The accommodation of beneficial water reuse is essential. Water is a priceless commodity that will likely grow more expensive and scarce. This is a great opportunity for Morro Bay and Cayucos to build a plant that can process waste water to a tertiary level so that the water can then be sold and used for agricultural and other approved purposes.
I understand the city and district are now claiming that water reclamation is not feasible, basing their claims on a 1999 report by Carollo Engineers. Having done an initial review of the report, I find that some of the logic used does not make any sense to me.
For example, the report states that the Morro and Chorro aquifers are recharged by annual rainfall, yet does not appear to consider the fact that use of reclaimed water for irrigation works in a very similar way. In addition, given the recurring water supply issues in our area, providing reclaimed water to farmers closer to the ocean (meaning, of course, closer to Morro Bay and Cayucos) would mean that upstream farmers could take more water out of the ground for their operations without negatively impacting their downstream neighbors, who would have a new, reliable supply. This would be right in line with Morro Bay’s Local Coastal Plan Policy 6.06,which states, "The City shall participate in the efforts of the Coastal Conservancy or other public or private agencies to implement agricultural enhancement programs…."
Some of us have reviewed the contract between Dudek and the City and District, and are concerned. The contract includes the statement: "The consultant shall prepare a preliminary water reclamation project analysis that relies upon the 1999 recycled water feasibility study. This preliminary analysis would be sufficient to address the Sustainable Use of Public Resources Component of the LCP for the proposed project and alternative sites (p to three total). The analysis will be based on the updated assessment of potential demand for reclaimed water prepared under Phase I above and the various issues and benefits associated with implementing a water reclamation program, including the feasibility of constructing infrastructure to accommodate a water reclamation program.
Several residents have reviewed the 1999 study that is referred to in the contract. Titled, "Comprehensive Recycled Water Study, City of Morro Bay and Cayucos Sanitary District," the study (which is available on the City of Morro Bay Web site, has been deemed by more than one resident to be obsolete, and at least one has stated the opinion that the study appears to have been done for the specific purpose of giving the city and the CSD excuses not to reuse water. Some of the "facts" in the study have been questioned and/or found to be no longer true and/or no longer applicable due to recent events and current plans.
In conclusion, some residents believe it is clear that there are serious concerns associated with instructing consultants to base their water reclamation analysis on an outdated study that makes statements and draws conclusions such as those discussed above.
I was made very aware that Morro Bay has an opportunity to get it right the first time. We as a city need to step up and accept that decisions made now could benefit the city for many years in the future. We could become recession proof! Many different sites for a new WWTP need to be considered.
I suggest that you involve from 1-3 members of the community during the project review phase prior to completion of the rough screening analysis. This can involve letting them attend project review meetings or giving them access to periodic project review and update reports that would be presented by the consultant.
The plant design should follow Coastal Commission guidelines. . . It should be re-sited outside Tsunami and 100 year floodplain areas and must be positioned for "zero discharge" functionality.
We need to look at all possible inland locations and move the plant away from its coastal location that is subject to rising seas, tsunamis, and other natural disasters. Tertiary treatment is a must and methods of recycling cleaned water back into the ground water system and for use in watering parks and other public lands must be utilized.
Discharging 1,000,000 (1 million gallons) of reclaimed water per day is indefensible considering the overall value and benefits to the present and future environmental and agricultural potential this reclaimed water resource would provide.
Ed and Monica Bischof
I do not think the wastewater treatment plant should stay in the current site. It should not be in the 100 year flood plain (to say nothing of the risk from tsunamis and rising sea levels). The city should not go against the Coastal Commission recommendations, a move that would cause delays and legal challenges to the redevelopmet. At some point the power plant will be gone and if the treatment plant is also gone the city would have a prime bay front location to develop for the benefit of all. Let's look to the future and not make a bad decision now that our children and grandchildren will have to fix.
Our city and Cayucos need to do a completely thorough and professional job in upgrading our wastewater treatment. So far, it seems, unfortunately, that this is lacking. It is elementary in all decision-making that initially one must uncover all alternatives, since it may be that the least likely is ultimately the best solution. So far, you appear to have limited your options to the existing plant location. WHY? WHO has the responsibility to identify all possible sites, to select the criteria, to rank the sites? Why has this not been done so far, at least in a way that an interested observer can follow the procedures and be able to either agree or disagree? Among the criteria, you MUST consider long-term costs to us, the users, which implies a consideration of ALTERNATIVE plant designs. This plant will last many decades, and will have continuing costs of operation, maintenance, and repair that are certain to occur.
Why do we have government? To help us to accomplish things for our community that would be impossible to get done by ourselves. What are the two most important things our local government can help us with? Water and sewer. Without either of these, our city would cease to function within days. Why would we risk building the new wastewater treatment plant in a 100 year flood plain? With the predicted rise in sea levels, we should be looking ahead, doing the right thing instead of the quickest, cheapest thing. Why can't Morro Bay lead the way with a state of the art new wastewater treatment plant, located away from the ocean. Let's do the right thing, even if it costs more.
I want to see a thorough and equal analysis of all alternative sites; to not do so is unacceptable and biased. It doesn’t make sense to artificially limit the sites in the more detailed analysis to two or three. The final analysis should focus on all sites that don’t have fatal flaws or problems that cannot be mitigated. I would like the analysis to include alternative technologies, not just the one already selected. We need to be willing to look outside of the City of Morro Bay limits for possible sites. Include water reclamation, recycling, and composting as criteria in evaluating alternatives. (State water may not always be available to us.) Work cooperatively, not antagonistically, with the Coastal Commission. Paying a lobbyist without sewer experience to try to "persuade" the commission to a project it has already expressed serious reservations about is a waste of our money. A good project doesn’t need a lobbyist.
Please consider—equally—as many sites as possible, not limited to sites owned/controlled by the city — especially, please consider the old Chevron site at Torro Creek, and sites on 41 where tertiary water could be used to recharge Morro Creek. I would rather pay more for a WWTP that lasts longer than 15 years, and is not on a flood/tsunami/liquefaction plain. I would rather pay more now for one WWTP with space for future expansion, as needed, than have to go through this process again within the foreseeable future.
Robert and Carol Swain
In the General Description of the Project on the city's home page it says that the plan is to "upgrade" the waste water treatment plant. After reading the EIR and the substantial concerns with the current site raised by the Coastal Commission, the County Department of Planning and Building, and others, the proper wording should be to "replace" the plant. It flies in the face of reason to continue to pursue the current weak and flawed site.
The Coastal Commission states unequivocally that ". . . the District's preferred site location appears inappropriate for the development proposal." The letter continues with specific concerns such as: "location in a high hazard area" "inconsistency with the LCP (and) applicable policies of the Coastal Act. . . " location in a "visually sensitive area" its impact on "significant archaeological resources" "the proposal to reduce capacity" "the lack of a plan for water reclamation" "unnecessary impacts on marine environment."
Do not limit inquiry to a pre-determined, small number of sites as potential locations for a new WWTP so the alternative options are limited to those that score poorly (as was done in the EIR). As I see it, there are at least four good sites in addition to the proposed beachfront site: the Chevron site situated between Morro Bay and Cayucos, the power-plant property north of Highway 41, the Navy fuel-tank property above Panorama (if set back on that property), and the Madonna-owned site along Highway 41. The proposed site is prime beachfront property for visitor service, but lies in a 100-year flood plain and a tsunami zone and is subject to liquefaction in an earthquake. Those three factors are fatal flaws, in my opinion, and the CA Coastal Commission apparently agrees. Sea-level rise is also a factor for development along the coast that should be considered. Staff and the JPA board have been dismissive of citizen input about these conditions.
Look at all sites co-equally and do not give extra points to the proposed site because alternate sites require land acquisition. We don't know the nature of a potential deal which may result in an outcome that's financially-neutral with respect to the land owned by the JPA.
Take what the Coastal Commission has told us and rather than try to lobby against it or try end runs around it, let’s just do what we’ve been asked to do: see if there could be a better place or way to do this and get a permit to build the right plant in the right place, that anticipates the needs of the future, not just does what seems convenient now. Good projects do not need lobbyists.
Lee U. Johnson
In general, I have been very skeptical of the city’s process and commitment to truly looking for a solution to our current challenge as it relates to the waste water treatment plant for Morro Bay and Cayucos. The two city-sponsored workshops. . . I do have to say that presentations and the Q&A by the consulting firm and the city staff at the information sessions did little to relieve my concerns as to the city’s commitment to finding a long term solution. The answers seemed very pat and lacked any depth. The chart and graphs used seemed to be intentionally set up to confuse, at best, or mislead at worst. It is critical that the public is involved again prior to the fine screening process. There was no discussion of the actual weighting of the criteria. This is the most critical piece. Depending on the weighting of the criteria, the options change dramatically.
It is imperative that this project be done right the first time and not stand the chance of having to do it over again (at a higher cost) in the future. It is therefore incumbent on the project team to evaluate all technical alternatives of waste water treatment as well. Having witnessed the effects of the tsunami in Japan, building this key piece of infrastructure on the flood plains of Morro Bay seems to be the height of folly. Please do the right thing and consider the implications of the natural disasters that surround us. Finally, it is extremely important that the City of Morro Bay pay close attention to the direction being provided by the Coastal Commission and enter into a positive relationship with that body. No good can come from taking an adversarial position. Follow the rules established for projects of this type and make a fair evaluation of all viable alternatives a part of that effort.
I don't know where I want the new plant to be built. But 1.) I know that I want the water to be reused, not discharged back into the ocean. 2.) I want modern up to date 21st century technology, and 3.) I want the JPA to acknowledge and follow the many many many requests of the residents on this project, not just take the path of least resistance by following the poor advice given by the inadequate, incompetent, and self serving, showing a possible conflict of interest. The city staff has created the climate of, a lack of trust, between the residents and the staff. Staff tells the public only what they want public to know, and we have found them to be misleading and, in my experience, on most occasions offering a lack of full disclosures.
Beginning with the rough analysis, the view should be to maximize value over the life of the plant. That means the consultant needs to anticipate known and likely issues and events over at least 30 years, and it is NOT true that this cannot be done. We KNOW that water scarcity, sea level, and limits in the state water system (not to mention in our own aquifers) will exist within the 30-year time frame. These issues point to the importance of water conservation and reclamation (re-use), plus a site selection that is based on potential flood and tsunami inundation at higher sea levels which would be catastrophic if a plant at the existing site failed. The costs of this catastrophe should be included in the analysis.
Here’s my rough priorities for a site (I am not including technical issues here): A) Long-term cost and ease of water reclamation: re-use for non-animal consumption. B) Resistance to environmental disaster: we cannot afford to "fix" a catastrophe due to a complete failure, even if somebody (other taxpayers) paid for it. C) Enhancement of coastal access and Morro Bay tourism. D) Finally, short-term cost is not the only issue, and it is not the controlling issue.
It is poor public policy to build a plant now that is cheaper over the next 10-15 years, but imposes higher costs in the out years to address water reclamation and recycling issues that are almost inevitable. At the very least, site selection should have a clear view of how to address these kinds of issues that will inevitably emerge with an eye to long-term (lifecycle) costs and benefits.
Bill and Dianne Weatherford
They have already indicated their displeasure with our first proposed site so rather than waste time and money trying to convince them otherwise, it would behoove us to find a site that truly meets their criterion. We implore you to give this matter serious consideration and do what is right for our community in the long term and not what might be right for a few people in the short term.
I keep asking myself why the majority of its members are so determined to have the WWTP upgrade locked into 20th Century technology when we have a golden opportunity to create a state of the art plant that will benefit uses for this valuable resource are being stretched thin, to say the least. So, why not choose an upgrade that will serve our community for years to come. Potable water is a finite resource, and with unchecked population growth, includes current 21st Century technology. . . technologies that will allow us to go to a tertiary level thus giving us another source of potable water to replenish our wells and/or to sell on the open market.
I would expect that all alternative sites be evaluated equally. False exclusions (ownership, present use, cost of acquisition, etc., should not hinder you from rendering a forthright report on each site. This is the only way that the 'best' site can be selected intelligently. This is crucial - that should be obvious as it is the first important step to a successful endeavor.
Do not present us with false and alarming financial caveats. Money is being wasted every day on an unacceptable concept and on a number of entities employed to "sell" it. It's time to turn the page and do what is right, sensible, and sustainable. Please abandon your idea of the public as adversarial and ignorant. Many have relevant experience with which to evaluate the project as proposed and others have spent time and energy to become familiar with the pros and cons of varied advanced technologies. I think you'll find that people do not object to money well spent on a project that will achieve more for a longer period of time.
Sites west of Highway One will have multiple hazard issues, damage visual resources, and compete with public access and recreational opportunities. These are the issues at the current site. One site west of Highway One that is the exception to this statement is the soon to be demolished, raised tank farm on the power plant property. The location is already elevated; it is recessed from public view and, depending on technology, could have a pleasing exterior design. It is on the east side of the Embarcadero, so it does not interfere with public access and recreational opportunities. Finally, having previously been elevated above grade, the site should have no issue with archeological resources. Which technology and level of sustainability are chosen will decide if it is of sufficient size.
I am in favor of repairing the existing waste water treatment plant, but I do not support any relocation.
The City of Morro Bay should investigate the seismic underpinnings of the current site as proposed for the WWTP. New studies from the U.S. Geological Survey indicate that Estero Bay may itself be a large subduction zone—and a subduction zone is the phenomenon that caused the massive Japanese earthquake of March 2011. The city should consult with the USGS for the latest findings in their UCERF 2 report on seismic activity on the central coast. If Estero Bay is indeed an area of expected and highly probable seismic activity, a more appropriate and possibly inland location should be chosen.
Let's work well with the Coastal Commission for an engineered design instead of a political design.
James and Patricia Reed
Three things must be considered for the new plant: 1) check alternate locations, considering flooding, tsunamis and alternative uses for the current site. 2) check alternative systems, considering the best solution for the long run, and reclaiming and reusing the waste water. We don't want to have to repeat this process in 10, 20, 30 years. 3) consider the above with open minds, not rehashing old ideas, and above all pay attention to what the costal commission is saying.
My three priorities for a viable site are 1) Environmental safety in event of a natural disaster, tsunami, flood, earthquake, 2) Cost—get it right the first time!, and, 3) Future H20 capabilities —technology I am most concerned about the environment, and the visual impact a wwtp would have on our coast.
As a community with an economic dependence on the tourism industry fueled by the abundance of natural beauty that abounds, I would urge the city to fully vet all other possible locations which aren’t on beachfront property adjacent to California Registered Historical Landmark number 821. The sandy soil conditions present pose a number of engineering challenges that will surely result in added costs to mitigate. Being located in the 100 year flood plain is especially disturbing in light of this year’s tragic Tsunami in Japan and the resultant tidal surges that affected our own bay-side community.
Patricia A. Dale
I would like to urge that you consider other sites besides the current site, which you know has serious limitations, and the two others on your list. This site study needs to be a long term projection, not something that will have to be redone in a few years, or is in danger from floods or tsunamis. . . .
The cost of the flood insurance alone is reason enough to rule out the Hwy 41/ Embarcadero site. It is time for the city council to see the handwriting on the wall and do the due diligence required in evaluating other sites. The Chevron site is certainly attractive and has the required space. There is a whole corredor of land available on Hwy 41 heading west toward Atascadero.
Rick & Christine Austin
The Morro Bay City Council is proposing a site for a new wastewater treatment plant, knowing full-well they will not thoroughly consider/evaluate all reasonable site alternatives. Rather than paying up-front for the costly and comprehensive data gathering and evaluation studies, the Morro Bay City Council seems to be passing the proverbial buck to the California Coastal Commission. The commission will then constantly tell the Morro Bay staff and council members how to proceed to identify the best site to provide for wastewater treatment and reclamation over the next 30+ years. The Morro Bay City Council needs to be pro-active and do their job (in cooperation with Coastal Commission staff), not re-active, by delaying the site-selection process, constantly challenging the Coastal Commission’s expertise, and costing us money. . . .
As a city council, we want you to foster an educated, politely-discussed dialogue about this costly project, find a way to pay for the required studies, explain to Morro Bay residents why the expenditures are needed, do the requisite evaluations, and bill us for our fair-share of the costs.
Susan and Craig Gossard
We think it imperative that a thorough and authentic evaluation of all viable sites be conducted for the proposed waste water treatment plant. The evaluation must be a co-equal analysis of alternate sites without bias/preference for the city staff recommended current site, and must include, among other factors, coastal hazards (flood zone) and economic criteria (smaller sites requiring two-story facility, flood insurance, etc.), water reclamation, and highest use of existing site with added economic value.
But get it done asap. I spoke about this five years ago at a joint meeting in Cayucos. Why don't we have it done by now?