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Feds want to allow offshore oil lease testing 

Last week the federal government announced a plan that would allow oil companies to perform tests in oil leases along the coasts of San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties.

The plan would not allow drilling, just studies of geology and marine life. Companies could then use that information to help plan future oil exploration.

Local groups argue that the current proposal doesn’t go far enough in addressing future environmental impacts of that potential drilling.

Pam Heatherington, the executive director at ECOSLO, says the current plan doesn’t take into account the impacts that developing the leases would have.

Furthermore, she said, “After this will they be gung-ho drill, drill, drill? Are they promising to do a full environmental study?�

Five companies — Nuevo, Aera, Venoco, Samedan, and Arguello — own the rights to the last 36 undeveloped offshore oil leases in California. Bakersfield-based Aera holds the lease to the Lion Rock Unit — the only lease in San Luis Obispo County.

Aera’s spokeswoman could not comment for legal reasons, but in the past, oil industry officials have said that they want to either develop the leases or receive recompense for the $1.2 billion they’re companies have spent on the leases.

Mineral Management Services will collect public comments on the plan until Dec. 16. In February it will send its final decision to the California Coastal Commission, which will have the final say.

To make comments, visit ocsconnect ³

— Abraham Hyatt


Eleventh-hour vote perplexes Los Osos

A special meeting of the Los Osos Community Services District (CSD) Board last Thursday brought the town one incremental step closer to building its illustrious waste water treatment center, or what may better be referred to as a “magical mystery sewer.�

After several hours of presentations, public comment, and arcane analysis of rate structure options, the board went ahead shortly before midnight and held two votes. But exactly how and on what they voted just depends on whom you ask.

Lisa Schicker, board member-elect, attended and spoke at the meeting, in adamant opposition of the current, downtown sewer project. She heard the board repeatedly recommend a workshop to review the rate options more carefully, and several times state that they would refrain from voting on a rate structure plan until December, after Schicker and her colleague Julie Tacker officially take office.

Then, sometime after 11 p.m., after most of the news reporters and concerned citizens had turned off their TVs or gone home to bed, the board voted in favor of a volume-based rate structure.

CSD General Manager Bruce Buel rejects the notion that there were any inconsistencies in the board’s decisions.

“It was very consistent,� Buel said. “They developed a policy that would be written into the revenue proposal for a special meeting on Dec. 16, for final consideration.�

Buel vehemently denied any mention of a workshop, and maintains that the board’s vote was only a recommendation for the next meeting. Any final decision will be made on Dec. 16 or later.

The volume-based structure would charge sewer customers according to the quantity of water they use — not the same as the amount of water they flush into the sewer. Another option was a winter-period system, which measures water used in slower months, on the idea that most of this water would go down the drain and less would be used elsewhere around the house for things like watering plants.

The third billing option was called a dwelling unit equivalent (DUE) rate, which would charge households according to the average water use of a single family home.

In the two hours of public comment — in which anti-sewer speakers outnumbered pro-sewer speakers by a margin of about 33 to three — virtually no one addressed the topic of rate structures, much to the chagrin of the board.

“We’re trying to do some serious business here,� CSD President Stan Gustafson said in frustration at one point.

Those few who did speak to the board’s issue suggested a fourth alternative, which was to use a flow meter on discharge, thereby measuring the actual quantity of water going into the sewer. This suggestion was made perhaps a half a dozen times, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears.

“You’ve been presented with an alternative,� Los Osos resident Kelly Lewis said, in reference to an elaborate presentation by Gale McPherson. “I pray you consider it.�

Marketplace developers file lawsuit

The Dalidio Family and the San Luis Marketplace, the developers for the proposed San Luis Obispo retail complex, filed a lawsuit in Superior Court on Nov. 23 challenging the validity of the petitions that call for a public referendum on the Marketplace development.

Save San Luis Obispo, the anti-Marketplace group, collected thousands of signatures to create a special referendum for the Marketplace project this spring. The referendum would have allowed voters to decide if the project could go forward. It is unclear how the lawsuit will affect the planned vote.

“There were three referendums, and each of the three was, in our opinion, legally insufficient because they don’t contain certain essential information,� said Michael Morris, the attorney representing the Dalidio Family and San Luis Marketplace.

The first two referendums did not contain a proper description of the location, like a map, and the third did contain a sufficient description of the planned mitigation projects, said Morris.

Statement from Kevin Sites

Kevin Sites, former New Times columnist and current freelance journalist in Iraq, made a statement this week about his videotaping of a Marine killing an unarmed insurgent in a Falluja mosque. Sites gained national attention when the video he shot on Nov. 13 circulated major media networks and Arab television networks. Sites was working for NBC.

“I find myself a lightning rod for controversy in reporting what I saw occur in front of me, camera rolling,� said Sites in a statement on his web site, “I’m not some war-zone tourist with a camera who doesn’t understand that ugly things happen in combat. This week I’ve even been shocked to see myself painted as some kind of antiwar activist.�

On his web site, Sites goes into a detailed description of finding a group of unarmed, wounded insurgents in the mosque. The insurgents had been captured the day before, said Sites. Sites was near the wounded when he videotaped a marine kill the unarmed insurgent.

“I can’t know what was in the mind of that Marine. He is the only one who does,� said Sites. “But observing all of this as an experienced war reporter who always bore in mind the dark perils of this conflict, even knowing the possibilities of mitigating circumstances — it appeared to me very plainly that something was not right. According to Lt. Col Bob Miller, the rules of engagement in Fallujah required soldiers or Marines to determine hostile intent before using deadly force. I was not watching from a hundred feet away. I was in the same room. Aside from breathing, I did not observe any movement at all.�

Superfund comment period ends

The 60-day comment period for the proposal to make the Klau and Buena Vista mines a Superfund site ended this week. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will now review the public comments and reevaluate the current situation to decide if the sites should officially be listed as Superfund cleanup sites.

If the EPA decides to list the mines, it will have more resources available from the federal government to help with cleanup and disposal of toxic materials. The sites would be the first Superfund sites in San Luis Obispo County. Both sites, about 12 miles west of Paso Robles, were used for mercury mining and ore processing before being abandoned. The mines were in operation from 1868 to 1970.

Mercury from the site has since leached into local waterways, forcing local and state officials to issue health advisories to anglers after contaminated bass were found nearby in 1994.

Before the EPA lists the sites, they will respond to each comment from the public, said Dawn Richmond, EPA national priority list coordinator. The EPA plans to look at a variety of factors, including whether the site is being addressed by the state or landowners, Richmond said.

The EPA has nixed listing sites in the past because other agencies have stepped in to do the cleanup work, she said.

The review process can take a long time, as public comments must go to EPA headquarters for review.

“It can take months, it can take years,� said Richmond. “I’d say it’s going to be a while.�

SLOPD moves fiery couch, saves house

Nov. 20. 4:30 a.m. Lincoln Street in San Luis Obispo.

San Luis Obispo police officers arrive on scene to find smoke coming from a house. As the city’s fire department would later report, “without due regard for their own life or safety, city police personnel entered the structure.�

Once inside, two officers found a sleeping occupant who hadn’t awoken to the blaring smoke detector. Two other officers found a couch on fire, which they carried outside.

By the time the city fire department’s ladder truck and battalion chief and a CDF engine arrived on scene, the couch was burning on the front lawn and only light smoke was visible in the house.

Back on the air

Dave Congalton, radio talk-show host for KVEC radio, is back on the air as of Nov. 15. Congalton was absent for three weeks with an unusual illness called Valley Fever (see New Times’ cover story, Nov. 18-25).

Valley Fever is a fungus spread by dust, and if inhaled can damage the lungs and other parts of the body and in some cases cause death. It is prevalent in north SLO County, Central California, and other arid areas of the Southwest. Congalton suffered the usual symptoms of fatigue, cough, and fever, but recent blood tests show that he is responding well to antifungal treatment although he told New Times he still has chills and malaise.

Congalton will celebrate 13 years as a daily talk-show host on KVEC-AM next year. ³


This week’s news was reported and compiled by Staff Writers Abraham Hyatt, John Peabody, and Jeff Hornaday. Managing Editor King Harris contributed.

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