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Wednesday, Jul 02 2014 10:38 AM

No cheap option for Golden Hills sewer customers

A nearly full house filled the Golden Highlands Club House on Monday, June 23 as Golden Hills residents heard an update on two options for the future of the community's sanitation company.

Representatives from AECOM, the consultant hired to perform a focus study, showed preliminary data on two options and a brief analysis of Tom Sawyer Lake's condition.

The overall analysis showed a fairly high price tag should either the Golden Hills Community Services District take over or sanitation services for 180 households be transferred to the city of Tehachapi.

The community workshop is the second of three meant to provide a solution for customers serviced by the Golden Hills Sanitation Company, a privately owned wastewater sewer plant that was declared insolvent. The company is currently operated by a receiver, who was appointed by the Kern County Superior Court in 2012.

William Black, the focus study's principal engineer, and Kevin Kennedy, the project manager, stressed that the numbers are preliminary, and that AECOM's goal is simply to provide the best options for the sanitation customers and Golden Hills residents.

Black said two options currently exist for the Golden Hills Sanitation Company's wastewater treatment facility: Either refurbish it to "near-new standards" and continue to operate it under a governing body or pump it to the City of Tehachapi's wastewater facility.

Rehabilitation of the wastewater facility would cost approximately $2.3 million, Black said. On the flip side, decommissioning the plant would cost $75,000 should the decision lean toward the Tehachapi option be utilized.

If the wastewater facility continues operation, pipeline repair and rehabilitation would cost $20,000. Effluent disposal, including using the irrigation systems for the old country club golf course, would cost $200,000.

Should the sanitation company turn to the city for operation of the community's sanitation system, Black said it would cost $1.96 million to build a pipe to Tehachapi's plant and a $1.67 million connection fee in addition to the $75,000 decommission fee.

The process would have to include creating a lift station to carry wastewater from the Golden Hills sewer system to the wastewater facility.

"The total with option one is less expensive than option two," Black said.

David Warner, a grants specialist, said funding is possible to curb some of the costs for either option.

Some grant money could come from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund in the form of a loan and grant. Future bond money is also available, as is grants from the regional Integrated Regional Management Plan.

"You folks had a survey done about a year ago and documented you guys as a severely disadvantaged community and that puts you much better in line for grant funding," Warner said. "Instead of funding part of the project, it could fund the entire thing."

At the federal level, grant funding would be available through the United State Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program and attempt to secure funding through the Community Development Block Grant money, which is administered by Kern County.

He said either having Golden Hills Community Services District or Tehachapi as the managing entity opens up doors to government aid.

"The one thing that this money cannot go to is private companies," Warner said. "It has to be a public entity running this operation."

Grants and loan programs, however, only cover capital project costs. Operation and maintenance costs must be borne by whomever operates the sewer collection system.

"They have to come out of the users' pockets and so it's important to know what is better: option one or option two," Warner said. "You're going to have to define the management and who will own the system."

Operations costs

Kennedy, the project manager, said that management will be key to the longevity of the sewer system.

If customers want to avoid Local Agency Formation Commission hurdles, Golden Hills CSD could take over. Absorption by the city of Tehachapi or Kern County would require a LAFCO process.

With Tehachapi it would require an updated collection system modeling to ensure the city's system could withstand the added capacity and collection of 180 more connections. In addition, any treated water percolated and recharged into the groundwater system could not be exchanged equally.

The costs are based on an overall possible 230 connections, including the 180 current ones.

Operations and management costs for either the continued operation of the current plant or Tehachapi differ, with the exception of the collection system. Kennedy said that the cost for the collection system would be $35,000 a year.

For the treatment plant, if it continued, would cost $400,000, including $80,000 for possible repairs within the plants. Kennedy stressed $80,000 would not be spent every year, but any remainder would be accumulated year after year to counter any serious breakdown.

If Tehachapi were to assume control of the sewer system, it would cost $152,000 for maintenance of the pipeline that would carry wastewater to the city's treatment facility, as well as administrative costs.

The discharge pipeline for wastewater would cost $15,000 if the plant continued operation, while Tehachapi would cost $40,000. Effluent, or waste, disposal would cost Tehachapi nothing, while it would cost $32,000 for whomever continued the system's operation.

When boiling everything down, Kennedy said operations and management costs over 20 years would cost the continued plant $6.55 million, while it would only cost $3.08 million for the city option.

He said the city option had several advantages, including the city having a proven track record with the regional regulatory board in operating a treatment facility.

"The regional regulatory board wants to resolve this as quickly as possible," Kennedy said.


Some residents brought up concerns about rate hikes that come along with all the changes.

Kennedy said that at some point rates should be changed to keep up with the costs.

"When you get new regulations that affect how you run a treatment plant, you have to consider whether to raise those rates," Kennedy said. "It's the 'I haven't raised rates in 20 years and now we have to come out' that you have to keep from happening."

Black, the principal engineer on AECOM focus study, said rather than speculate, he'd would like to do some more number crunching and come back with more concrete numbers.

Glenn Baumann, who owns property in Golden Hills noted commented that the state might require some regulations for expansion over 20 years in return for grant funding over .

"You might not able to operate that plant economically and efficiently on the small number of connections that you currently have, but you can make it more operationally sustainable, with some upgrades and more connections," Baumann said.

Kennedy said that if numbers play out in that scenario, the continued operation of the plant might be more viable in the long term than outsourcing to Tehachapi.

"We can use that information," Kennedy said. However, it was stressed that it was best to focus on a viable transition for the sewer system to a new form of operations.

"We're going to look at these numbers more closely," Black, the AECOM engineer, said. When the numbers are crunched and a report released, a third community meeting will be set up for August.

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Tehachapi Real Estate 5/6/2015
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