The following “Viewpoint” by CSD Boardmember, Chuck Cesena, ran in the Tribune Feb 26,09. Posted with permission.
The recent viewpoint from Bill Garfinkel and company was disingenuous in several ways. They paint anyone with a different opinion as a sewer obstructionist. Those who want a more energy efficient system utilizing proven technologies are lumped in with those who don’t even believe we need a sewer. All are painted as obstructionists who have held up the project for the past 20 years. Yet those signing the viewpoint are a who’s who of the very Solutions Group members who convinced the Coastal Commission to stop the County’s previous effort in 1998! After gaining control of the newly formed CSD, they gave us the TriW project. A project so flawed it did not even make the short list of preferred projects in the recent County analysis.
The County’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) determined that a STEP collection system is a feasible alternative that is essentially co-equal in terms of environmental impact as a gravity system. Yes, the DEIR did identify a gravity collection system as the (slightly) environmentally preferred system. And yes, many engineers have been involved with this evaluation. But what did the independent experts at the National Water Research Institute – who were hired by the County to provide a peer review of their consultants work - have to say? That the consulting engineers didn’t seem to be comparing apples to apples when examining STEP and gravity systems. They also stated verbally that they had a hard time not using the word biased to describe the County consultants work.
One of the reasons for the faulty comparison is that a STEP system would utilize small diameter plastic pipe which could be fuse welded to eliminate leaky joints. That state-of-the-art pipe is more expensive and so it was not factored into the gravity collection system estimates. Instead, the traditional PVC pipe with bell& spigot joints sealed by a rubber gasket was used. Using this pipe in an earthquake prone area, especially one with sandy soils and high groundwater, is sure to eventually result in a leaky collection system. Wastewater would leak out into the environment, inviting fines from Water Board. It will allow saltwater to leak into the system. This would cause problems for the treatment plant and could render the treated effluent unusable as a supplement to our water supplies. The County must supply an estimate for each collection system utilizing HDPE or similar fuse-welded pipe.
Another example of the gravity bias is the phantom requirement that STEP (septic) tanks would have to be pumped every five years. This was repeated probably 20 times in the draft EIR, and yet there is no regulatory requirement or scientific basis for this statement. The Water Board’s onsite regulations require inspections every five years (not every two) and pumping as needed
The deep trenches of a gravity collection system would cause a major disruption to the streets of our community during construction. The expense of street repairs would be much higher than that resulting from the horizontal boring associated with the small diameter pipe of a STEP system. On lot disturbance would actually be about the same with each system. Yes, septic tanks would be traded for upgraded STEP tanks. But the existing septic tanks would need to be uncovered as part of decommissioning for the gravity system anyway. And the County has stated that on lot disturbance could be minimized by placing the STEP tanks at the edge of the street right-of-way in some cases.
The STEP system would have a ½ horsepower pump in each yard to pump the STEP tank effluent to the treatment plant. But the gravity system would have 20 pump stations throughout town, with up to 60 horsepower pumps at these stations. Each pump station would require at least annual maintenance, exposing neighbors to noise and odors each time.
The monitoring and alarms of the STEP system would not be maintained by the property owner, it would be the responsibility of the agency operating the sewer system. This alarm system is actually a benefit; it notifies the operator immediately of problems with the system. A gravity system could leak for an undetermined period of time before a problem was noticed.
Much has been said of the need for haste in having a shovel ready project to capture economic stimulus monies that might be available. By definition, the design-build process the County has established is shovel ready.
The timing of the County’s community survey is curious. Why not wait until the responses to the DEIR comments have been released? The results of the proposals submitted as part of the design-build process would have revealed true costs and that is critical information. The key factor for many will be the cost of the project. The DEIR acknowledged that a STEP system would be cheaper to build than a gravity system. The only way to know this for sure is to allow a fair competition in the design-build process and have a STEP proposal among those under consideration.