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Arroyo Grande re-enters Central Coast Blue water project

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After months of turmoil and uncertainty, the city of Arroyo Grande is officially back in the Central Coast Blue water project.

On Sept. 14, the Arroyo Grande City Council voted unanimously to agree to new terms for the regional groundwater project—reviving its frayed partnership with Pismo Beach and Grover Beach.

The new agreement—negotiated by city officials over the summer—reduces Arroyo Grande's financial commitment to the project and promises that future discussions will take place on project sticking points, like whether to have a local hire provision for construction labor, at joint city council meetings.

"Democracy is not for sissies," Arroyo Grande Mayor Caren Ray Russom said during the meeting. "It's not been fun, at all. Especially not for staff and the city managers of all three cities.

REVIVED Arroyo Grande agreed to new terms for the Central Coast Blue water project, demonstrated in this graphic. - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • REVIVED Arroyo Grande agreed to new terms for the Central Coast Blue water project, demonstrated in this graphic.

"No, we're not getting 100 percent of what we asked for," she added. "But that's not democracy."

The estimated $85 million Central Coast Blue project, if built, will inject treated wastewater from the three South County cities into the Santa Maria Valley Groundwater Basin to defend against seawater intrusion.

Pismo Beach, the project's lead agency, is currently seeking multiple grants to help offset the project's costs. Under the new agreement forged between the cities, Arroyo Grande would now pay 25 percent of the total project costs compared to 39 percent in the original framework (Arroyo Grande would also only get a quarter of the project benefit).

That means Arroyo Grande could spend between and $2.9 million and $12.9 million on the project, depending on how much grant money it's awarded, according to City Manager Whitney McDonald.

"The numbers vary quite a lot," McDonald said. "Additional grant funding is hoped for and anticipated."

The City Council's Sept. 14 vote also authorized McDonald to immediately wire $86,000 to Pismo Beach to bring its total project contribution up to match Grover Beach's, at $210,000.

"I think that's fair and reasonable," Councilmember Jimmy Paulding said.

In June, the Arroyo Grande City Council directed its staff to "not pay another penny" toward the project unless a new agreement was negotiated.

In addition to lower costs and a promise of future meetings, the partner cities agreed to form a joint powers authority once construction is complete to govern the project's operation.

All five Arroyo Grande council members voiced their support for the new terms. The council previously raised issues about shared governance. While under the agreement, Pismo Beach still retains its status as the lead agency, Arroyo Grande council members said they'd have more input overall.

"The project is much more what we had in mind," Councilmember Kristen Barneich said. "There's still a lot more work to do. But we're a lot closer. Δ

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