- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
On Dec. 20, the Morro Bay Planning Commission unanimously denied the Environmental Impact Report for the proposed Morro Bay/Cayucos Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrade Project, stalling an estimated $27.5 million project and perhaps sending the whole effort back to the drawing board.
After hours of public testimony and commissioner deliberations, the four-member commission went against staff recommendations and denied the environmental report largely because it lacked alternative sites. It’s a tricky situation in Morro Bay, with city staff calling the project an “upgrade” of the existing plant rather than a new project, which effectively allows them to wash away some of the more stringent environmental issues that typically plague new projects.
Commissioners argued the plant constitutes a new project, despite being proposed on the site of the existing facility. They denied the environmental report, asked that a letter be sent to the Regional Water Quality Control Board requesting an extension to build a new plant (the water board required the plant be upgraded by March 2014 to provide full secondary treatment), and instructed city staffers to look for alternative sites.
Those recommendations fell in line with concerns from the California Coastal Commission.
“… the District’s proposed preferred site location appears to be inappropriate for the development proposed,” the commission said in a Nov. 12 letter to the city.
The commission’s decision was soon appealed. Next step: the City Council. Council members are scheduled to weigh in Jan. 11. If they agree with the commission, it could mean back-to-scratch for the $375,000 environmental report.
“It’s my hope that the town can come together along with Cayucos and build a plant at an affordable price that everybody is happy with in the end,” Mayor Bill Yates said. “That would be my wish for the year.”
According to City Attorney Robert Schultz, the city would be within its rights to approve the environmental report even without alternative sites outlined. Schultz said though the final project legally must have other sites identified, such an analysis could be held off until Morro Bay and Cayucos take the project to the Coastal Commission for a coastal development permit.
“Legally we’ve met the requirement under [the California Environmental Quality Act] ... but that doesn’t meant the City Council, or in this case the Coastal Commission, couldn’t say, ‘We want you to do further analysis until we’re satisfied,’” Schultz said. ∆