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Tuesday, Jul 15 2014 09:56 AM

GH directors have differing views on district's role in sewer issue

Golden Hills residents voiced their opinions on July 9 when the community's board of directors held a special meeting regarding a privately-run sewer system and wastewater treatment facility.

Most of those speaking fell in line with a common belief: The CSD should be instrumentally involved in any decision that comes following the end of a focus study.

The Golden Hills Sanitation District, currently under receivership, privately operates a small section of sewer within Golden Hills.

AECOM, an engineering firm, is currently conducting the focus study, with two options already identified: either refurbish the current plant and continue operation under some type of public ownership, or send all wastewater treatment to the city of Tehachapi.

Most of Golden Hills residential and commercial areas are on septic tanks, not sewer.

Adrian Maaskant, a Golden Hills resident, argued that the CSD should let AECOM know it is interested in pursuing a major role in the future of sanitation company's future.

One reason he said, is maintaining local control over wastewater treatment, something the district has as a community services district.

"Local control is an issue we have fought over," Maaskant said, noting the 2013 Local Agency Formation Commission bout that Golden Hills had over its garbage rights. "I see a great threat from the proposals from AECOM that seemed we were going to lose control locally over our wastewater management."

He said that if Kern County were take it over, it most likely would be contracted out to a private enterprise. (See related story on page 5).

With the AECOM study, Maaskant said the future of the sanitation company is on the fast track for transporting its wastewater to Tehachapi for treatment by way of a forced sewer main.

AECOM, at its presentation on June 23, presented the two options, with the City of Tehachapi appearing the cheaper of the two. Maaskant said he had asked for the raw data from AECOM, but had yet to receive it.

Ed Kennedy, CSD board president, noted that AECOM had been challenged by residents at the presentation and that the company had said it will refine its numbers.

Kim McBurney, a Golden Hills resident, also supported the idea of a CSD take over.

"I would rather see Golden Hills CSD take over the running of the plant than to have it go to the city," McBurney said. "I don't think we should have to pay for it even with grants that may come in."

She also noted that if wastewater is sent to Tehachapi, it would not be recovered to fill Tom Sawyer Lake. Treated effluent has been used to replenish the lake, which has recently been acquired by the district.

Jon Curry, public works director for Tehachapi, noted that there was a lot of finger-pointing and accusations of ineptness on the city's part.

"That is a little disheartening," Curry said.

He noted that the city treats a million gallons of sewage a day, has expert staff and cleans its 50 miles of sewer mains twice a year.

"Unfortunately things like sewer system overflows do happen, we do have vandalism and people dumping in our sewer mains -- things do happen," Curry said. "Anyone who has ever operated a sewer collection system will tell you those things do happen."

He said AECOM, who is also a consultant with the city, has approached the city to provide data and options.

"We want to see a viable option," Curry said. "If that means upgrading the current plant, that's great, we'd love to see that water go to a beneficial use."

He also challenged claims of high nitrate levels in the city's wastewater system, saying it was lower than any other system in the area.

"We pride ourselves on what we are putting back in the ground is and are irrigating with is a very high quality effluent," Curry said. He added even if AECOM recommend the city treat Golden Hills wastewater, it is still one step in a long process.

Water treated by the city, even if it could be transported back to Golden Hills, would not be feasible to place in Sawyer Lake, compared to what the Golden Hills facility will be able to produce, Curry said.

Kennedy, the board president, said he would rather wait than take immediate action.

"There is no simple solution and I have come to the conclusion that this is something that cannot be decided on short notice because whatever we do will affect the entire Golden Hills community," Kennedy said.

To do so would not be responsible, he said.

"Frankly, financially it would be a burden on the entire community if there were an instance where we had to come up with $100,000. It's not in the planned budget and not in the reserves."

Director Larry Barrett held an opposite view.

"I think we are on the verge of losing local control for wastewater that have been with us since 1964," Barrett said. He asked for an action item on the July 17 agenda to show AECOM the district is interested in playing an integral role.

"We don't have time to go to the people," Barrett said. "We need to hear from the CSD, yes or no."

Kennedy said it would have to be run by the district's general counsel. [It has since been placed on the agenda for the board's July 17 meeting, see page 4]

Director Bud Sargent noted that to take on the wastewater facility means devoting resources to it. He added that the district's funds, after everything has been budgeted, remains limited.

"We had to draw money from all these different accounts to purchase the golf course and lake, so right now we are watching how we spend what is left," he said. "If we commit the rest of the community to taking on the liability of the sewer plant and something happens, where does the money come to repair it?"

Director Kathy Cassil offered up a possible plan to poll the community about what the CSD should do, while Director Laura Lynne Wyatt asked the public to allow the board to catch its breath regarding the sanitation company as it had just come out of the purchase of the country club.

Barbara Miller, who works for the Receiver for Golden Hills Sanitation, said there are reserves available for wastewater facility. She later clarified it is dedicated to equipment in case of an emergency; that the funds she referenced comes from various withheld fees and taxes.

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