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Tuesday, Jul 15 2014 09:56 AM

Golden Hills resident critical of city, others

As Golden Hills Community Services District board members and residents discussed the future of the community's sewer system and wastewater plant on July 9, a long time activist has come out swinging against one possible solution.

In an article and followup interviw, Golden Hills resident Adrian Maaskant levied some assertions against the city of Tehachapi and the former administrator of the Golden Hills Sanitation Company, which now operates in receivership.

In his article, posted last week on the website "Golden Hills Network," Maaskant noted there are two options presented by the firm conducting a focus study on what to do with the future of the sewer system and wastewater facility.

One option is to refurbish and continue operating the treatment facility under the auspice of the CSD or joint partnership. The other is to demolish the facility and have the city of Tehachapi treat wastewater through a 4-inch forced sewer main.

Golden Hills Sanitation Company, under receivership, maintains the treatment facility and the collection system that serves a small portion of the district, including Golden Highlands.

Maaskant wrote that Golden Hills sewer customers would benefit if the CSD stepped up to the plate and took over. Doing otherwise, he said, would create a muddled mess because as many as five agencies could become involved.

"This means that there will be at least two separate entities responsible for wastewater treatment for the current customers -- (1) the City of Tehachapi for treatment of the influent (the Treatment Agency) and (2) Some as yet undefined entity to manage the collection system (the Collection Agency)," Maaskant wrote in his Golden Hills Network article.

He wrote that a third agency will be responsible for billing, and potential two others: Golden Hills CSD and Golden Highlands Home Owners Association.

Maaskant noted that many of the agencies "have separate political bases to appease."

He also noted that the Tehachapi wastewater collection and treatment system has its own troubled past, including sanitary sewer overflows and discharge of nitrates in the Tehachapi aquifer.

Maaskant provided four claims documents filed with the Central San Joaquin Valley Risk Management Authority regarding sewer backup, dated between 2007 and 2013.

"Please also be aware that it isn't my intent to cause the City harm in making this report. It would seem that the City has responded appropriately to these complaints," Maaskant said in his email to Tehachapi News.

However he added there is the perceived notion among Golden Hills sewer customers that wastewater services will be exported to Tehachapi.

"It is most appropriate that Golden Hills residents be aware of these problems, and it should be explicitly agreed that the cost of dealing with this defect in the City Sewer System not be in any way assessed against the residents of Golden Hills," Maaskant said.

City Manager Greg Garrett, however, disputed the claims made by Maaskant.

"We do not have a problem with our wastewater collection or treatment system, nor an inordinate amount of SSOs," Garrett said in a July 9 email. "What I believe Mr. Maaskant is attempting to insinuate is that we are somehow incapable of collecting and treating wastewater in a safe and effective manner."

Garrett said nothing could be further from the truth.

"After decades of municipal wastewater treatment, we've built an excellent system, with highly trained operators, that are constantly looking for ways to improve an already excellent operation," Garrett said. This was done with the city's funds and grants and loans from the state of California, which has helped keep nitrate levels in treated wastewater effluent beneath the maximum contamination levels.

In his article, Maaskant noted that should Kern County -- who awarded the bid to AECOM to conduct a focus study on the plant's future -- take over as the operator of the sewer system, it would pave the way for Clint Hilderbrand, a former manager of the wastewater facility, to re-enter the picture.

Hilderbrand was the last general manager before Golden Hills Sanitation Company went into receivership. His company, Aqua Operations, had managed operations of the wastewater facility for the Estate of Carlie Smith, which had owned the sanitation company.

The estate had refused to continue paying for the the plant's operations after Smith died. Hilderbrand, and another, was awarded $16,915 by the Kern County Board of Supervisors in 2013 for continuing to operate until the plant was appointed a receiver.

"Should Kern County be the operator of the Golden Hills wastewater collection system, it is likely that Clint Hilderbrand, through his Aqua Operations, will once again have a role to play in our community of Golden Hills," Hilderbrand said. He noted that Hilderbrand operates Aqua Operations and has been awarded to county contracts as the lowest bidder.

Maaskant clarified his negative perception of Hilderbrand's management prior to the receivership includes rate increases that nearly went into effect in late 2011, as well as apparent mismanagement of $895,383 that had been levied against the sanitation company's assets.

"It would seem that the money Mr. Hilderbrand received from the owners of GHSC was not used for the benefit of the ratepayers," Maaskant said in his email on July 9. He added it was evident in three filings submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission.

Hilderbrand said that increased fees have something to do with Maakant's animosity toward him.

Sewer customers in Golden Hills pay $91 a month under the interim rates established by the CPUC. The rate increase in late 2011 was less than Golden Hills Sanitation requested under Hildebrand's management.

Hilderbrand added that the $895,383 came from loans from Smith, the plant's owner, and went to pay many of the bills.

He said when he came to the sanitation company in 2008, his goal was to make sure it was a viable business operation.

However, with everything that has happened in the last few years, there's only one viable option, he said.

"The best thing is to let the CSD take it over and apply for state grants," Hilderbrand said.

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