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Woodacre Sewage Plant (chief concerns)

February 6, 2015

 

 

Background:

The "Woodacre Flats" are the 400 or so properties sitting in the bottom of the Woodacre bowl in between Redwood and Central. Some of these properties have experienced difficulties with their older septic systems over the years due to an unusually high water table during winter months, and due to many systems being in a state of failure. These problems may have resulted in human sewage being detected in the San Geronimo Creek watershed which empties into Tomales Bay. In most cases this issue can be dealt with by installing a conventional pre filter at the problem properties but these systems would require attentive owners and appropriate funding.

 

The primary issues driving the controversy are *the cost of building individual systems, and *the restriction these septic systems have on the total square footage of the homes. Generally speaking these properties all are capable of handling onsite effluent disposal that would be required with an current system. Their owners argue though that the systems would be unsightly. It is also important to note that no property is under any orders to vacate and there are hundreds more aging systems throughout the Valley that need attention as well.

 

Although it is understood that there are human contaminants in the creeks, at this time the point sources of these contaminants are unknown due to the County not requiring old septic systems to be recorded, and due to the County not having good data. These contaminants still would potentially be entering the watershed even with a new sewage treatment plant in place because the point sources are unknown and only a maximum of 400 homes would be included, out of 1500.

 

 

 

 

The Proposal:

A group of homeowners organized to fund an EIR Study for the purpose of siting a waste water treatment plant at the San Geronimo Valley Golf Course. This treatment plant would take pre filtered waste water from up to 400 local homes and sanitize it for irrigation use by the golf course. Funds have been collected for the EIR study and some community input has been sought.

 

 

Concerns:

1) New Development Method-

This proposal represents a serious new precedent for West Marin and is a radical departure from the Marshall system which was designed to allow the town of Marshall to continue to exist. Unlike the Marshall situation there are no homes threatened with possible demolition nor are there major human contaminants being detected in the creeks.  

 

Approval of an exclusive system for a few homes that could otherwise be repaired onsite would essentially add a new option to builders across the State. A system of the type proposed would be a substantial deviation from regulatory precedent for the State and County, and could open up many properties to development by providing a new option in waste disposal.  

 

2) Highly Exclusive-

If this system were to be approved there would be an exclusive sewage treatment system available to a maximum 300 homeowners willing to pay for the service, leaving the rest of the San Geronimo Valley to fend for themselves. As the proposal is conceived only the initial properties connected to the system would be allowed to use it. Any others finding themselves having similar septic problems would be denied connection since the system would be designed with a maximum capacity based on the number of homes connected from the start. 

 

3) Trenching newly paved streets- 

The system would consist of a collection system from each authorized home, run through an expensive newly installed pumping infrastructure cut through our new roads, which would deliver the sewage to the golf course for further treatment. These pipes would require extreme new trenching through most of our brand new roads leaving a network of patched trenches.

 

4) Dangerous Chemicals-

Sewage treatment requires pumping systems and toxic chemicals onsite.  Salaried managers would be responsible for storage and use of toxic sanitizing agents as well as the maintenance and operation of a fairly complex pumping infrastructure. Current law considers any stored sanitizing agents as terrorist targets and require heightened security.

 

5) Long Term Funding-

As with any communal sewage system, a "district" is established to create a legal entity to oversee the operations of the system and provide a long term funding source for ongoing maintenance. To insure the perpetuation of this entity the County typically requires a fund or trust be created to guarantee the monies needed for any future repairs, upgrades, or maintenance of the system be available. To date I have seen no reference to this entity, or to the need to fund it.

 

6) Not part of "the commons"-

In this unique proposal since the number of connected homes would be finite and limited to a set number at the outset, the private pumping/piping infrastructure would be dedicated to only a few homes yet be trenched through the public infrastructure. This merging of public and private infrastructure represents another precedent which could offer new options to developers in the state. Although there are development complexes, apartments, condos and the like which have a private infrastructure that connects to the public system, this proposal would be a fundamental shift from that approved model allowing exclusive private systems within existing public infrastructure.

 

7) No incentive to "buy in"-

No one has undertaken a review of older failing systems so the remaining properties with antiquated or failing systems cannot be nudged into participating. As the project is currently conceived, since the individual properties are not identified, there are no incentives for the homeowners with problematic systems to buy into the Sewage District. 

 

8) Administrative Laziness-

In order for this entire scheme to work properly within State guidelines, exotic deed restrictions will be required on every property participating to insure a square foot cap on any future living space. This type of policy is an example of laziness, in that instead of creating a Countywide policy governing everyone, the administrators take the easy way out and make deed restrictions on just the homes that are connecting to the unique system. Using an exotic legal deed restriction to support an exotic and unnecessary sewer treatment plant is a shocking lack of willingness to do the right thing and create reasonable County-wide policies that everyone would be required to comply with. 

 

9) Twice the size of the Bolinas system-

Having had the chance to review the Bolinas sewer system I now have a better understanding of the size and maintenance requirements of such a system. The Bolinas BPUD system is designed for a total of 160 homes and is quite massive. The proposed system for Woodacre is proposed for 300 or twice the number of homes serviced by the BPUD system which would be truly enormous.

 

10) The Contaminant Sources are Unknown-

Technically speaking the point sources of the contaminants found in the creeks are unknown due to the County not requiring old septic systems to be recorded or tested. These contaminants would likely continue to be entering the watershed even with a new sewage treatment plant in place because the point sources are unknown and may not necessarily be part of the Woodacre flats.

 

11) Property Values-

To my knowledge no one has yet taken the property valuation issue into consideration. How will this proposal effect property values and will they be negative or positive depending on the deed restrictions and development potential. There will undoubtedly be side by side neighbors, some on the sewage system and some still on septic which will be grappling with entirely different problems. 

 

 

 

 

The Pitch:

The group proposing this system is telling homeowners the preposterous tale that $20,000.00 is all one needs for a buy-in. This system would actually cost a minimum of $15 million and would represent a major shift in County development policy. What isn't being said publicly is that in order for this plan to succeed, the State of California would have to provide the majority of the funds to build this system, which would be benefiting only a few in a community who don't actually need emergency assistance. We are told this is an emergency requiring State action. We are told that this is a modest system. We are told that this will help the creeks and the Salmonids. We are possibly being lied to by people who want larger homes or are unwilling to do the homework to figure out a reasonable fix for their antiquated septic systems.

.

The Precedent:

Currently there are no small scale communal sewage districts in Marin County other than those in Marshall and Bolinas, without which neither of those communities would currently exist. To restate; Neither Marshall nor Bolinas would exist in their current form, due to their soils and high density, without major State and County intervention allowing special sewage treatment systems for their entire community. To give you a sense of the restrictions placed upon these communities, Bolinas recently auctioned off a water meter, the first offered in a decade, for over $300k. Furthermore it is important to point out that these 2 unique systems were designed and funded with the intent of the entire community taking part. Woodacre is not in any type of emergency status requiring any special or legal precedents to take place despite what has been said.

 

The end result of this process would be a new Statewide precedent which will have enormous environmental repercussions in the future. This act would represent the most egregious misuse of the special rules involving community emergencies, and I believe is driven by people wanting a cut of the State's portion of the systems costs.

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