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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Negotiations between City and Regional Water Board Seem to Have Run Aground

• City Manager Suggests Setting a Different Course


City Manager Jim Thorsen is expected to tell the Malibu City Council next week that no progress has been made in discussions with the Regional Water Quality Control Board about the Civic Center septic prohibition.
Given the tenor of the meeting in Sacramento where the State Water Resources Control Board chair suggested that there could be some kind of give and take between the city and the regional board, the news will require some hard decisions on the part of the council.
City officials had held out hope that the regional board would be more flexible in its position on the prohibition boundaries and phasing.
The key, according to municipal officials, to the city being able to do any kind of Civic Center centralized wastewater treatment plant that did not involve an outfall depended on different boundaries than currently imposed.
However, Thorsen said the local agency has been inflexible in its stance.
“I have been informed that the regional board is unwilling to discuss any change in the prohibition boundaries or phasing until such time they believe sufficient science has been produced that would warrant a revision,” wrote Thorsen in a memo to council members. “I have been working in supportive cooperation with the executive officer of the regional board over the last two months with the hopeful anticipation that we could make headway on possible prohibition boundaries and phasing changes. This was in light of the state board’s direction for the city to work closely with the executive officer so that compromise could be achieved. I was contacted by Charlie Hoppin, the SWRCB  chair, who is following up on his commitment to stay involved in this issue as all compromise alternatives are explored.”
Thorsen said this is the same position of the regional board that was stated in a letter to the state board before the hearing when the state board gave its approval to the regional board’s action.
The letter signed by the Chair Mary Ann Lutz and directed to Hoppin said the board would only reconsider the boundaries or phasing “If we receive such information as new studies.”
“Since the prohibition boundaries adopted by the board are based on science and natural topography, not political consideration, new studies would have to (a) provide groundwater and surface water monitoring from within and around the area proposed for exclusion, (b) address critical conditions of seasonality, hydrology and pollutant loading and, (c) be approved by peer reviewers who are experts in relevant water quality issues,” the letter states.
Thorsen said that it will take months if not longer for completion of some of the new studies that would point the regional board in a different direction.
The city council has several options in terms of what to do about ongoing design work on any new package plant.
He is recommending the council ceases spending any more money and halts further design work until the scientific reports are finished in the studies are in the hands of the regional board.
“It is fully anticipated that when handed the completed scientific reports, that the regional board would then be willing  to revise phasing and boundaries. During these uncertain economic times, it is not prudent to spend large public resources on a plan that is unlikely to garner support from the regional board nor will it meet their phasing requirements at this time. The city needs to have assurance that the design that is pursued is the design that is expected from the regional board and the one that will ultimately be approved by the regional board,” Thorsen said.
And even in a more somber tone, the city manager predicted the city is likely to fall behind the timetable established by the board and “may fail to comply with the deadlines that have been imposed.”