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Regional wastewater decision will have to wait

Deciders ask for time to review two options
By: Gus Thomson Gold Country News Service
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Placer County supervisors want more answers on a $92 million regional wastewater solution that would pipe sewage from Auburn and North Auburn to Lincoln. The city of Lincoln provided the lower-cost estimate on the long-discussed project earlier this year and the Board of Supervisors was given a recommendation last week from Facility Services Department staff to opt for an upgrade at its North Auburn plant. But supervisors, who have been supportive of the regional wastewater plant and pipeline for at least a decade, asked for staff to work with Lincoln on providing more detail to compare the two proposals more closely. The 50-year-old North Auburn Sewer Maintenance District No. 1 treatment plant serves 5,300 residential and 2,580 commercial and industrial customers. But the district has been subjected to fines of $15,000 a month because compliance on clean-water standards wasn’t met last June. Facility Services Director Jim Durfee said estimates are that the upgrade would cost $64.3 million. Supervisor Jim Holmes said last Thursday that the board is still looking for answers on how the new sewer system would be governed and a clear response from Auburn on whether it would commit to the regional plan. While no engineering or design work has taken place on the regional pipeline, supervisors were told that the upgrade on the North Auburn plant is 90 percent complete on design. Bids could be opened for construction as early as August and work could be completed by late 2014, said Webb Owen, senior vice president of the Psomas engineering firm. Supervisors are slated to bring the regional wastewater issue back for more discussion in the summer. “It’s really the first time that we’ve really been able to discuss the issues,” Holmes said. Lincoln Councilman Spencer Short said Lincoln brought the new plan with a much lower price tag to Placer County and Auburn to get some momentum going on what had been a stalled proposal. The subject of discussion for at least 15 years, the cost of the regional wastewater project was estimated at $200 million in 2008 and dropped to $140 million last year. “It’s reasonable and conservative,” Short said during the Board of Supervisors meeting. “It’s a beginning discussion point. From our council’s standpoint, they need to decide whether to fish or cut bait.” On Tuesday, Short clarified his quote to The News Messenger. “We have been working on this for 10 years and have gotten a number of commitments from the county that they were coming in,” Short said. “There had been requirements from the county to oversize some parts of the infrastructure to the tune of $8 million.” Short said that $8 million represents the negative cash the city of Lincoln has in its wastewater fund. “When we oversized, we put the money forward,” Short said. “Once the county hooks up (to the plant), that’s part of what we are expecting to get out of the entire project, as well as an estimate that the rates will go down for all operations.” While the county “doesn’t have the authority to require” that the city oversize their infrastructure, District 2 Supervisor Robert Weygandt said Wednesday, it was requested. “We’ve been working on this for 10 years minimally and there are times when we have invested regionally,” Weygandt said. “Certainly, the county has asked all players at different times to participate in the regional effort and the county was the organization that was trying to take forward the regional notion but we certainly didn’t require the city to do anything.” Lincoln doesn’t have to be part of a regional project but, based on initial figures, it appears that combining treatment for Auburn, North Auburn and Lincoln would provide economies in costs, Short said. Auburn Mayor Bill Kirby said Auburn’s plant is in compliance with current water-quality standards but the city is interested in a regional plan only if Placer County commits. “If it does, Auburn will be looking hard at the numbers to see if it makes sense to us,” Kirby said. “They need to get off the gun and make a decision.” Stephanie Dumm contributed to this story.