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Los Osos sewer inches forward

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The Los Osos sewer project has a good chance of scoring some much-needed federal funding, if the project ever makes it out of the SLO County Planning Commission.

After one failed attempt to secure stimulus funding, county officials have another shot to get $35 million in loans and grants for the sewer project. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has about $3.7 billion to allocate, but because Los Osos’ population is above a 10,000 limit, the town was blocked from receiving any money. However, Democratic Congresswoman Lois Capps and Republican colleague Kevin McCarthy pushed through an exemption that qualifies Los Osos for the USDA funding.

John Diodati from county public works has been spearheading funding for the project.

“We said, ‘Oh man, we have to go after this money,’” Diodati said. “‘We have to get this waiver.’”

Cost has been the central issue in the fight brewing between county officials and Los Osos residents. The project is estimated to cost $165 million, which means about $250 per month for property owners with leaking septic tanks.

“The inclusion of Los Osos in the FY 2010 Agriculture Appropriations bill is clearly the best opportunity for obtaining stimulus funding and addressing affordability impacts of the wastewater project,” Public Works Director Paavo Ogren said in a news release.

There’s no guarantee of funding, and the bill still needs to pass the Senate before Los Osos can apply for the money. However, Diodati said, California Senator Dianne Feinstein is on board with the project and she’s on the necessary committee to push the Senate version of the bill forward.

Meanwhile, the project is crawling through the county Planning Commission. Commissioners have met five times with no agreement on whether to approve a coastal development permit and environmental impact report. They will meet again on July 23.

Project Engineer John Waddell said the project could undergo major design changes depending on what commissioners decide, but couldn’t guess how the vote might turn out.

“So far the big issues that they’ve covered are the collection system issues, the site, the disposal options, and water conservation,” Waddell said.

Waddell was cautiously optimistic construction on the sewer will begin next year, but he said an appeal to the Board of Supervisors is probably inevitable, no matter what commissioners decide.

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