Lift station

The sewage lift station in Guernewood Park

A county plan to truck Occidental’s sewage to Guerneville for treatment and disposal appears to be stopped up for now owing to neighborhood opposition and possible legal issues.

Guernewood Park neighbors near the site where sewage would be unloaded at a Russian River Sanitation District pump station met with new Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins last week to vent their concerns about neighborhood truck traffic, potential odors and other compatibility issues if the sewage plan goes forward.

A sympathetic Hopkins told neighbors there may also be a legal problem if proposed pump station improvements, including a new paved driveway under the redwoods at the site, constitute an expansion of the sewer system onto vacant residential property next door.

“I don’t see how we can say that’s not an expansion,” said Hopkins, regarding a proposed new turnaround that sewage trucks would need on the property next to the lift station located between Highway 116 and Riverside Dr.

Sonoma County acquired the neighboring property in the 1980s as part of a legal settlement with the owner; a condition of the sale included an agreement that the county would not expand sewage system operations onto the neighboring property, said Hopkins. The previous owner had a house on the property that was in the path of a prevailing breeze carrying the lift station’s smell. The county demolished the house.

The deed restriction only surfaced last week after neighbors began asking questions about the Occidental sewage transfer plan that seemed to have been formulated with numerous discussions among Occidental Sanitation District residents but little or no dialogue with Guerneville residents whose properties would be impacted by the sewage transfer process involving from five to 15 daily truck deliveries of raw sewage arriving at the Riverside Drive lift station.

A Sonoma County Water Agency environmental review of the plan last year concluded it would have “no significant impact” on the Riverside Drive environment, but neighbors last week said they were never told about the project and are prepared to challenge the environmental finding in court.

Hopkins, who inherits the town of Occidental’s sewage woes that have continued unresolved through three previous county supervisors, said the plan to ship Occidental’s waste to Guerneville may not have been fully vetted. “I think they were trying to hurry something through,” said Hopkins, meeting with a half dozen Riverside Drive neighbors last week.

“This is a neighborhood,” said Hopkins. “It’s not out in some industrial area.”

As a county supervisor, Hopkins also sits on the Sonoma County Water Agency’s board of directors. The supervisors’ dual roles as water agency directors and public representatives have come under fire in the past when water agency plans clashed with constituent concerns.

Hopkins said alternatives to the Riverside Drive plan would now be back on the table, including the possibility of shipping Occidental’s sewage to the Graton Sanitation District instead.

The Board of Supervisors meanwhile has extended a comment period on the transfer plan and at Hopkins’ request will hold a public hearing for the Occidental County Sanitation District Wastewater Transport Compliance Project Initial Study and Negative Declaration scheduled for 6 p.m. on Feb. 16 in the Monte Rio Community Center.

“The Project’s operations potentially affect people living in both Occidental and near the main lift station on Highway 116. A public hearing in Monte Rio will allow folks from both communities to attend,” said Hopkins, in a media announcement last week.

 “I have heard from many people in my district who want more time to review the Occidental project and who want an opportunity to share their thoughts,” said Hopkins. “I’ve asked water agency staff to extend the comment period and to bring to the full board a plan to hold a public hearing.”

Water agency general manager Grant Davis has extended the comment period for the project to 60 days, ending at 5 p.m. Feb. 24.

The project would allow Occidental’s wastewater to be transported, treated and discharged at the Russian River Sanitation District treatment plant on Neeley Road and if necessary at the Sonoma County Airport Business Park treatment plant.

Currently, the Occidental district discharges recycled water into Graham’s Pond located at the headwaters of Dutch Bill Creek during the summer and to Dutch Bill Creek during the winter. The creek provides habitat for endangered coho salmon. An order by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board requires Occidental to stop releasing secondary treated water into the pond by 2018.

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