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Caught between a sewer and a hard place

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In a morning press conference on Friday, Los Osos CSD President Lisa Schicker announced that Measure B - the initiative to move the sewer - is in fact the law, and that the board will relocate the treatment facility accordingly. Pursuant to Measure B, all construction contracts have been suspended, but Schicker and her colleagues hope that successful negotiations with state agencies will allow them to avoid terminating the contracts and to resume work on new ground.

Like its predecessor, the new CSD is already facing mounting resistance, including a lawsuit that challenges the legality of Measure B. But as Schicker and Interim General Manager Dan Bleskey explained, even if the initiative - which mandates a new location - is overturned, the board will still fulfill its promise to move the plant out of town.

Bleskey, Interim CSD Counsel John McClendon, and two newly elected CSD members met with the regional water board Oct. 12 to discuss the CSD's intentions and impending fines from the water board.

"We all have the same goals in mind," Bleskey insisted, yet he described the tone of last week's meeting as "frustrating."

Roger Briggs, representative for the regional water board, considers Measure B nothing more than an "anti-solution initiative," written to indefinitely delay the project rather than to relocate it. Citing "significant water quality and public health issues," Briggs said he would not tolerate any further project delays, and so he's recommended that the CSD be fined $11.19 million.

"This [downtown] project does not solve our problems, and that's all we've been saying," Schicker said in her defense. "It's not about delays; it's about a better project in the right place."

She sees fines either way: fines now for delays, or fines later for a project that didn't solve the problem.

The water board will hold a hearing on Dec. 1 to determine how to proceed with the recommended fines. They have the option to raise or lower the $11.19 million penalty, or if the CSD resumes construction downtown, the water board could choose to dismiss the matter.

Briggs hopes that the looming fines, construction losses, and the loss of state loan money (the subject of another convoluted lawsuit) will persuade the board to proceed with the current plan.

Schicker and Bleskey both claim that the project can proceed at a new location with minimal delay to the larger timetable. In order to do that, however, the build will need to acquire new land, engineer a new design, and amend its EIR, county plan, and coastal development permit.

"We have a difference of opinion; we have experience and they don't," said Briggs. "They say they can get it done in months; we say years." 

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