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Morro Bay Picks Site For Sewer Plant

September 27,2017-

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 4.32.41 PMDespite a high price tag, the Morro Bay City Council this week selected the South Bay Blvd site near Highway 1 as the preferred location for the new wastewater treatment plant. The project site – just over the hill to the north of the South Bay/Highway 1 interchange, would be most costly at $150 million.This site was selected by the City Council in June 2016 as the focus for the project, and a draft Facility Master Plan was prepared in November 2016 that could be used as a basis for design and budgeting for a project at that location.

The council in a special meeting Tuesday narrowed the choice to this one from 5 sites including one near the current WWTP location next to the ocean. The five ranged in price from $124 million to $150 million.

Here are the pluses and minuses of the chosen location as outlined in the city staff report including strong support from the California Coastal Commission (CCC).

California Coastal Commission: CCC staff has been generally supportive of this site. City staff kept CCC staff apprised of progress on the project as the draft FMP was developed during 2016. CCC staff has not raised significant concerns with this location in discussions. With respect to permitting, they have been supportive of the concept of working with San Luis Obispo County on a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) based on the County’s LCP, since the site is currently in an unincorporated area. CCC staff confirmed this perspective at a conference call meeting on September 19, 2017.
CCC provided correspondence to the City Council dated July 11, 2017. Although it did not address the South Bay Boulevard location in that letter, CCC staff strongly encouraged the City to continue on the path it has been following to relocate the project away from the existing Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP). A new facility at the South Bay Boulevard site would be consistent with recent CCC direction.
City staff met with CCC staff on August 8, 2017 to discuss the WRF project, particularly with regard to CCC staff’s concerns expressed in their July 2017 letter to the City Council. The South Bay Boulevard site location was not the focus of that meeting, but CCC staff reiterated the concerns with shifting the focus to a site near the existing WWTP.
San Luis Obispo County. County staff has been supportive and collaborative relative to moving forward at the South Bay Boulevard location. They concur with CCC staff that it would be appropriate for the City to obtain a Coastal Development Permit for a project at this location. County staff does not anticipate substantial concerns with this process.
Regional Water Quality Control Board. Regional Board (RWQCB) staff has not focused on suitable sites as much as achieving their broad overall objectives: 1) to protect water quality; 2) to encourage a strong water reclamation component; and 3) to achieve these goals as quickly as possible. RWQCB Staff has been supportive of the City’s efforts at this site, and has coordinated closely with City staff throughout the process.
The RWQCB provided correspondence to the City Council dated July 11, 2017. Although it did not address the South Bay Boulevard location in that letter, RWQCB staff strongly encouraged the City to move forward as quickly as possible, and expressed concern that shifting focus to a new site could result in further delays that would hinder the attainment of their key objectives related to water quality and reclamation. RWQCB staff also provided testimony at the July 11 City Council meeting consistent with their letter of the same date.
Key Opportunities
Potential development on the South Bay Boulevard site presents several key opportunities, many of which are described in detail in the May 2016 Report on Potential WRF Sites. Others are drawn from more recent regulatory agency input, public outreach, or from the draft Facilities Master Plan and related technical studies. In summary, these include the following:
Facility Master Plan Has Been Prepared. One important consideration for this site is that a draft Facility Master Plan (FMP) has already been prepared, which takes into account the various physical opportunities and constraints associated with this location. The draft FMP is also based on detailed recent technical studies related to biological resources, cultural resources, and geotechnical issues. From a technical perspective, the FMP has been vetted by the WRFCAC and City Council. With some minor refinement, it can be used as the basis for the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to further examine potential impacts associated with its implementation. This represents a likely time and cost savings relative to other sites, if only the planning effort is considered.

Far From Existing Residential Uses. The City has already conducted extensive outreach related to this site. Development at this location would neither be near nor visible to any offsite residents, and there are no homes on the site itself. The nearest residents live within Casa de Flores, a senior residential complex roughly 1,200 to 1,600 feet to the south, which is visually blocked by intervening topography. Outreach related to this site conducted in 2016 suggests that compared to other locations closer to residential neighborhoods, there would likely be less controversy or opposition as the project moves forward through the design and CEQA process. It could also reduce cost for architectural features and screening since it will be less visible.
A Large Site Providing Design Flexibility. As identified in the draft FMP, the most developable area is a gently sloping 15‐acre site, sufficiently large to allow some degree of design flexibility, particularly if no corporation yard is to be considered.
 Relatively Free of Coastal Commission Resource Concerns. The location shown in the draft FMP on the site is relatively free of issues that would be of potential concern to the Coastal Commission. It not visually prominent from Highway 1, nor does it include prime soils. It may also be possible to avoid onsite drainage features and any potential Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA) associated with them.
Site Acquisition is Straightforward. In 2016, the City entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to purchase the necessary portion of the site. The MOU does not commit any City financial resources unless it purchases the needed portion of the site.
 Potential for Land Conservation. Only a portion of the roughly 28 acres addressed in the MOU would be needed for the WRF. The City could explore the potential to work with land trusts to preserve some or all of the remainder of the site that would be purchased in open space, agriculture or some other similar passive use in perpetuity.
Longer Pipeline Route but Fewer Complexities. The pipelines are longer than those to the other sites under consideration, but can be generally constructed within City rights‐of‐way with the exception of the Highway 1 freeway crossing. This requires significantly less coordination with Caltrans than constructing a pipeline along the Highway 41 corridor, particularly with respect to the Righetti site. It also will avoid the cultural resource sites identified along Highway 41 associated with that site. In addition, pipeline construction could be phased with planned repaving of streets or other capital improvements to reduce cost.
Key Constraints
The key constraints facing development at this location include:
Relatively Higher Cost. Development of a WRF at this site would be relatively more expensive than any other site now under consideration. Refined cost estimates described earlier in this report suggest that project costs would be 8 to 21% higher than at any of the other locations considered in this report, depending on the location.
Farther from Most Reclamation Opportunities. The site would be farther from the most promising reclamation opportunities identified in the draft Master Water Reclamation Plan (MWRP), including groundwater recharge into the Morro Valley aquifer to provide indirect potable reuse. While reclamation can be achieved at this location, the greater distance contributes to the higher cost estimate.

Farther from the City’s Existing Wastewater Collection System. The site is located about 2.4 miles from the existing treatment plant (the hub of the City’s wastewater treatment infrastructure network) and the ocean outfall. This distance is farther from the City’s existing wastewater infrastructure than any other site under consideration, which will increase relative potential construction and energy costs for the conveyance of raw wastewater.

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