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Another View: Decision near on wastewater project

By: Jim Holmes, supervisor, Placer County District 3
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Since taking office in January 2005, I have invested significant time and energy to find cost-effective and reliable solutions to meet North Auburn’s wastewater compliance requirements with the State Water Quality Control Board. This is an issue of great significance to the rate payers in North Auburn and Bowman. Placer County’s North Auburn Wastewater Treatment Plant in Sewer Maintenance District No. 1 (SMD No. 1) on Joeger Road must be upgraded to meet the new state requirements and a decision must be made on how best to meet them. The Placer County Board of Supervisors has been studying two options, one of which is to upgrade and expand the capacity of the existing North Auburn Wastewater Treatment Plant. It currently treats 1.7 million gallons per day (MGD) of wastewater and is nearly out of capacity. The upgrade and expansion will bring the capacity to 2.7 MGD and make available the possibility of a future upgrade to 4.2 MGD that will accommodate the long-term build-out of North Auburn as described in the General Plan. In July 2011 the board of supervisors adopted the Mitigated Negative Declaration and authorized staff to advertise for and solicit bids for the construction of the North Auburn Plant. I am pleased to say that the low bid for the project came in at $48.3 million, substantially lower than the original estimate. Placer County has also been approved for a State Revolving Fund loan at 2.2 percent for 30 years to fund the project. The county has recently been notified that since this area has been designated as an Economically Disadvantaged Community the State Revolving Fund may forgive $6 million on the principal amount. This is a competitive review process which requires quick action on the county’s part to secure. In addition to the $6 million of principal forgiveness there would be an additional reduction of approximately $2.64 million in overall financing costs. This reduces the cost of the upgrade and expansion by over $8 million and reduces the annual debt service payment by approximately $375,000 a year. It removes the necessity for any foreseeable rate increases. It also very likely enables the county to reduce the rates to SMD 1 customers by over $2 a month, thus reducing the current $82 monthly fee — if we award the bid for the upgrade and expansion project soon. This is good news for the ratepayers in North Auburn and Bowman. The other option being proposed is a concept to build two pipelines, one from North Auburn and one from the City of Auburn Wastewater Treatment Plant on Ophir Road and connect them to a partially completed pipeline at Sierra College Boulevard and Highway 193 that eventually connects to the City of Lincoln Wastewater Treatment Plant located near the Thunder Valley Casino. The costs of this proposal will be substantially higher than the upgrade and expansion. There is no formal estimate, no environmental document, no construction documents, and no discussion regarding the costs of acquiring right-of-way and the probable need of Eminent Domain and resultant costs. While there have been very preliminary discussions with the City of Auburn about their interest in such a proposal, there has been no confirmation of the city’s involvement. There is also no agreement on who will govern such a proposal. There has been discussion of pledging future revenues from the Middle Fork Relicensing Project that the county should be receiving by 2016 at the earliest. In this uncertain economic and political environment I am not inclined to pledge future revenues to any project or concept until those revenues have been received and put into the bank. If and when such revenues are received, perhaps a better use of such funds would be to reduce the already high rates paid by residents and businesses to a rate structure more in line with other nearby jurisdictions. If you are a rate payer in Sewer Maintenance District No. 1 (North Auburn and Bowman) please come and express your concerns. Jim Holmes is supervisor for Placer County District 3. ---------- Public meeting: The Placer County Board of Supervisors will be hearing this item and providing direction to staff regarding these issues at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6 in the Planning Commission Chambers, located at 3091 County Center Drive in North Auburn.