Comment on the Wastewater Project SEIR Certification

Comment on the Wastewater Project SEIR Certification:

Camp Meeker/Occidental
Wastewater Project final SEIR Certification
RRWPC Comments on Transmittal and Resolution
February 26, 2008 (Item #50)
Submitted by Brenda Adelman for RRWPC

The proposed resolution noted above, directs certification of an SEIR for a pipeline project, already declared “inadequate” by the lead agency (CM R&PD), and of which there is no intention of constructing. (P. B-2: “District staff want to emphasize that the District does not intend to pursue the project identified in the Final SEIR, and recommend certification to stop the District and its ratepayers from receiving additional fines.”) It also orders that a NEW economically feasible alternative be developed that would satisfy the conditions of the Regional Board’s Cease and Desist Order, now requiring EIR certification to prevent fines and penalties of $1000 a day (OCSD Cease & Desist Order # R1-2005-0086) to begin about February 1st for the Occidental County Sanitation District (OCSD).

This will be the third EIR certified for projects (since 1997) intended to address failures in the Occidental County Sanitation District, badly out of compliance with their NPDES permit since at least the mid 1990’s. The first EIR contained a selection of land-based projects developed by consultants Winzler and Kelly. (Transmittal claims that the contract was with Brelje & Race, which is incorrect.) This EIR was certified by Directors of the Occidental County Sanitation District (Board of Supervisors) on February 15, 2000, although no project was selected. (The certification in 2000 is not noted in the current transmittal for some reason.)
Subsequently Regional Board staff determined, AFTER the EIR was certified, that the preferred project in that EIR could not be permitted by that Agency. It has always puzzled us as to why there was never any attempt by either Regional Board staff or the OCSD to find some way to tweak the project so that it could address concerns of the Agency? It is our understanding that the leach-field project would have worked under all but the most extreme conditions. We wonder why some storage, or other means, could not have been proposed to equalize the extreme flows?

After this first EIR was effectively disqualified, the Camp Meeker Rec and Park District agreed to take the lead in developing a joint project with Occidental utilizing and upgrading the Occidental Treatment Plant. In this instance, SCWA served in the capacity of “responsible” Agency under CEQA. This was a viable but ultimately expensive project and SCWA was never able to obtain funding for it. (The Transmittal claims that the agreement with BRELJE & RACE for the first EIR was “amended” to produce the second one. This is incorrect. As previously mentioned, OCSD contracted with Winzler & Kelly for the first EIR, and CM R&P District, as lead agency, contracted with B&R for the second.)

Finally, in December, 2006, SCWA approached CM R&P District with a draft contract to be the lead agency for a supplemental EIR (later termed a “subsequent” EIR) that would study a raw sewage pipeline project from Occidental to Russian River County Sanitation District (RRCSD). They offered to pay $165,189 to pay for the EIR consultant (later raised a bit), “cooperate” in the defense of any lawsuit connected to the EIR, and confer with the District regarding any issues connected to the EIR that arise. NOWHERE did the contract state that SCWA would also be the co-decision maker or play a “responsible” agency role in regards to EIR certification. One of the selling points made by SCWA to the District, was assurances that the pipeline project was bound to be a much cheaper alternative.

Considerable pressure was put on the CM R&P District to take this project on. They were reluctant to do it, but eventually, in April, 2006, the agreement was signed. We must add that representatives from the Occidental community were also attending meetings and putting a great deal of pressure on the District to move forward with this joint project. Occidental’s goal was to meet the Dec. 2007 time deadline set by the Regional Board for having a certified EIR that would provide a long-range project to deal with their wastewater discharges.

The Engineer’s report for this project, released in late 2007, determined that the cost would come to about $22 million for both Occidental and Camp Meeker (similar to the cost for the second project). Directors of the Camp Meeker Board were very upset about this, but it was not the basis for the decision to reject this EIR, as stated in the Transmittal (Page B-2: “…the CMRPD Board neither certified the Final SEIR nor approved the project, due to escalating costs of implementation.”)

I was in attendance at that meeting and I distinctly recall the Chair, who voted against the project, stating that she read every word of all the EIR documents, and she believed that the EIR was inadequate and should not be certified. She had written her comments out and read them into the record. Another board member supported her view.

In speaking with John Short of the Regional Board recently, he mentioned that three possible future paths were recently discussed and OCSD certification of the rejected EIR was determined to be the least desirable path. The others included using one of the other two EIRs, or request relief from the Regional Board from penalties and take steps to develop a less expensive local alternative. John indicated support for the third option. Regional Board staff, are now saying that they would like to see a local, affordable remedy for Occidental alone. Down the road Camp Meeker would deal with its own situation.

RRWPC believes that local, affordable remedies are much preferred. We urge the community to find some workable version of the first EIR that addresses the concerns of the Regional Board. Furthermore, if there is no intent to construct the pipeline project, we urge the Board to apply for an extension of the deadline. We have never heard of an EIR’s certification with the express exclusive intent of avoiding a fine and never attempting the project.