The Placer County Board of Supervisors made an historic decision Tuesday to participate in the development of a regional sewage treatment system with the city of Lincoln and possibly the city of Auburn.
Board members voted 3-2 to accept Lincoln’s offer to build a regional system that will pump wastewater from North Auburn and potentially the city of Auburn by pipeline for treatment at Lincoln’s treatment plant.
Board Chairwoman Jennifer Montgomery joined Supervisors Robert M. Weygandt and Jack Duran in voting for the regional approach.
The next step for Placer County is to negotiate an agreement with the city of Lincoln on design and environmental review work. The agreement will return to the board for final approval.
The plan approved by the board majority calls for Placer County to continue working with the city of Auburn, which is interested in participating in development of the regional system, but has not made a final decision about how to finance the project yet.
The board also directed county staff to continue working on ways to keep monthly charges for North Auburn ratepayers stable when the regional system goes into operation in 2015 and to help stabilize rates for Auburn ratepayers if the city opts to participate in the regional system.
“I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to have that discussion with the city of Auburn,” Chairwoman Montgomery said, emphasizing that the board did not need to decide then and there on a plan for stabilizing rates.
“We have this golden opportunity that is before us,” said Supervisor Weygandt, a strong proponent of the regional system. “I know we can work out the details.”
“This was not an easy vote, but I believe that the short-term costs are outweighed by tremendous long-term benefits for our children and our community," Supervisor Duran explained. “The regional solution is an investment in the future of Placer County."
Chairwoman Montgomery noted that all three of the main options considered by the board Tuesday would bring the county into compliance with state wastewater discharge standards in North Auburn.
She noted that officials from the State Water Resources Control Board and Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board addressed the meeting. Water Quality Control Board representatives emphasized the state prefers regional wastewater-treatment systems. The county may be able to apply fines assessed during construction of the project toward construction costs, due to the environmental benefits the project will provide. They also noted that regional systems provide economies of scale that tend to keep rates lower for the public in the long term.
The existing treatment plant that serves more than 6,000 North Auburn ratepayers in Sewer Maintenance District 1 was built in 1961. It has been upgraded several times since then, but currently does not meet state sewage discharge standards and is near capacity. The county is facing a September 2015 compliance deadline.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Supervisors Jim Holmes and Kirk Uhler cast the opposing votes, expressing a preference for meeting state standards by upgrading the county’s North Auburn facilities.
The two options in that category were:
- Awarding a contract for upgrading the existing North Auburn treatment plant to C. Overaa & Co. of Richmond, the lowest bidder who responded to a county request for bids last summer; or
- Negotiating an agreement with PERC Water Corp., a private-sector company that has submitted a proposal to design, construct and potentially operate and finance an upgraded North Auburn plant.
Supervisor Uhler emphasized the regional plan has too many unknowns for him to support it, saying he believes the board majority is taking a leap of faith that the regional system will succeed as planned. “I really hope you’re right,” he said. “I really do.”
Said Supervisor Holmes, “When it comes right down to it, I see too many risks to the ratepayers in SMD 1 in going regional. And, I look at the PERC proposal as eliminating those risks and lowering the sewer rates at SMD 1.”
The board has discussed the sewage treatment issues several times over the last year. On Dec. 6, board members directed county staff to continue working on plans for constructing a regional system and to return to the board no later than March 13 with recommendations for a final board decision. In its Dec. 6 vote, the board stipulated that upgrading the existing plant would remain a fall-back option in case building the regional system is not feasible.