Monday, August 18, 2008

Taxpayer dollars down the drain?

As the Gold Rush project has evolved, several catch phrases have come to mind. “Lipstick on a pig” is one. “Pig in a poke” another. But lately, the most appropriate phrase seems to be “bait and switch.” Here’s why …

Back in 2001, Sutter Creek and the Amador Regional Sanitation Authority were planning for the day ARSA could no longer dispose of wastewater in Ione. The city and ARSA paid $750,000 for the right to spray 1,300 acre feet of wastewater a year on the Noble Ranch, a large parcel on the edge of town. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The Noble Ranch is the site of the proposed Gold Rush Ranch subdivision. Here's how the Amador Ledger Dispatch described the deal, "In 2001, the city negotiated a public/private partnership to purchase the land, with developers of Gold Rush Golf Resort so that the city and ARSA kept disposal rights and rights to lines, reservoirs and easements on the property."

Ever since then, the public has been led to believe that Gold Rush's golf course and other irrigation needs would solve Sutter Creek's wastewater disposal problem. Just a few weeks ago, a Ledger reporter praised Gold Rush for this very reason.

Apparently the reporter hadn't read the draft EIR for Gold Rush, which was released not long ago. As it turns out, the development itself will keep the city from fully using its disposal easement on the Noble Ranch.

Here's what the pertinent section of the EIR says, "Increased treatment capacity at the WWTP, including that required to treat Project-generated wastewater, will also increase treated effluent disposal and storage requirements. The City retains a 1,300 afy treated effluent disposal spray easement on the 833-acre Noble Ranch portion of the Project site. The Project's use of recycled water from the WWTP will provide for utilization/disposal of approximately 347 afy of this amount (with the development of the golf course intended to facilitate the bulk of this disposal). The remaining 953 afy of the easement will not be available on the Project site as a result of development and other land uses that will be incompatible with use of the spray easement." (emphasis added)

What does it mean? The development of the Noble Ranch will keep ARSA and Gold Rush from using the full wastewater easement they paid for back in 2001.

Further, the development itself will eventually generate more wastewater than anyone plans to use on the site. If Gold Rush is built as proposed, the city will have to find another place for that excess wastewater--as well as all the wastewater from the rest of Sutter Creek! I doubt that’s what the city and ARSA had in mind back when they helped buy the property.

It makes me wonder how long the city has known. One clue should have come in 2006, when Gold Rush released a plan that didn’t acknowledge the wastewater easement. According to a Ledger Dispatch story, ARSA and Sutter Creek City Manager Rob Duke took exception at that time.

The Gold Rush draft EIR indicates that the city is aware of the problem now. It says, “The City’s primary objectives are to ensure that development within the City is in compliance with the City’s General Plan and the City’s implementing ordinances. The City’s objectives also include retaining the existing 1,300 AFY effluent disposal spray easement on the Noble Ranch or ensuring that any loss of the existing easement disposal capacity is replaced without financial impact to the City. Replacement of spray easement capacity may be achieved through a combination of acquisition of easements on alternative effluent disposal sites, additional effluent storage facilities and fees to provide funding for use by the City in securing replacement effluent disposal capacity.” (emphasis added)

Gold Rush is clearly not the solution for Sutter Creek’s future wastewater disposal. And the city knows it. You just have to wonder what else will come to light about the project in the coming weeks.

The public hearing for the EIR is on Monday, August 25.

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