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Is the beginning of the line in sight?

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After decades of dealing with a tangled mess of leaking septic tanks and political infighting, it looks as though a Los Osos sewer might actually get built. What’s left now is paying for it and making sure enough residents are on board with the design.

As has become common at Board of Supervisors meetings, on March 3 some residents accused county officials of hijacking the project. They said the project was expensive, bound to pollute, and based on faulty environmental conclusions.

But in a rarer display, other residents came forward to say they were either in favor of the county’s proposed project, or that they just wanted something built.

At the heart of the debate is the county-preferred gravity-based system versus the so-called STEP system that some swear would cost half as much and be less likely 
to leak.

According to a county survey with about 2,200 respondents, 49 percent of residents want the gravity system regardless of the cost. County officials further interpreted survey results and concluded 72 percent of people want the gravity system depending on its actual cost.

Such results drew scoffs from many who attended the latest project update. Many accused the county of sending a survey that was obviously biased toward a gravity system.

“Gentlemen, your project has been pre-selected,” Julie Tacker said.

Regardless of the gravity/STEP debate, one of the most formidable obstacles residents face now is time. County officials continue to lobby the federal government for a share of the economic stimulus package. The gravity project is almost ready for construction and most likely to qualify for federal dollars.

After a trip to Washington, D.C., county supervisors and Public Works Department officials seem increasingly confident that Los Osos will qualify for stimulus money.

“Every day that goes by we get closer to obtaining the funding,” Public Works Department administrator John Diodati told New Times.

Without any outside help, the project’s cost will land solely on residents, who could have to pay as much as $250 per month. Those costs, some residents say, would be unaffordable and end up pricing many of them out of their homes.

There are still many unknowns, such as how much money will be available for Los Osos and when. Diodati estimated the project will be “competitive” for funds within the year, noting that it’s a priority project for California.

Meanwhile, the project’s Environmental Impact Report is being finalized. Planning commissioners will consider the project on April 23.

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