District pooh-poohs sewage penalty



A “huge” $1.1 million penalty issued by local water-quality officials last month—after hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage spilled from a treatment plant in Oceano in 2010—is “unconstitutional and unreasonably high,” according to an appeal filed by the South SLO County Sanitation District.

The appeal also disputes the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s conclusion that the raw-sewage spill was caused by negligence and lack of maintenance.

The latest financial reports for the sanitation district show there’s not enough cash on hand to pay the fine without raising sewer rates for residents of Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, and Oceano, according to the appeal. Those financial reports had not been completed when the penalty was issued.

Technically known as a petition for review, the 53-page document asks the State Water Resources Control Board to overturn the penalty. If the state board refuses to do that, the next stop would be the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court, according to the district’s legal counsel, Mike Seitz.

“Our best chance is before a judge,” Seitz said.

The makeup of the sanitation district’s board of directors—considered by some ratepayers to be an “old boys’ club”—is due to change in January, when Grover Beach’s new mayor, Debbie Peterson, takes office.

Peterson has questioned the dual roles of district administrator John Wallace, whose company, the Wallace Group, is also the district’s engineering consultant. State prosecutors have also criticized the arrangement.

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