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Central Coast boondoggle 

Grover Beach should join Arroyo Grande in dumping Pismo's water project

In response to the New Times shredding ("Say something," June 10) of "Arroyo Grande opts out of Central Coast Blue, barring new agreement" (June 10). It's about time someone stood up to Pismo Beach on what I call, "Central Coast boondoggle."

Thank goodness the Arroyo Grande City Council, which under the current agreement is charged with paying for almost half of the project, has finally spit out some of the Central Coast Blue Kool-Aid that's been served for the last several years.

The city of Pismo Beach, as the project's lead agency, has couched the project as "a local water sustainability project that will create a new, high quality, and reliable water supply for our Five Cities communities, including Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, and Oceano." A project that started out in the $28 million range has ballooned to more than $50 million to produce a mere 1,000 acre-feet of water, of which Arroyo Grande would receive just 400 acre-feet. The ongoing cost to Arroyo Grande is nearly $2 million a year that will be added to the water rates (watch out, AG residents, your water bill is going up, up, up!).

Approximately five years ago, Central Coast Blue, then under the name Regional Groundwater Sustainability Project, appeared interesting to grant providers—they love to fund projects that sound important. Over the years, the project has received millions in state and federal grants (i.e., your and my tax dollars). Grants are not "free money" or winning the lottery, they are funds intended to pay for projects that otherwise might not be funded at all.

The project was rebranded to Central Coast Blue to capture the interest of the communities that will actually pay for it for decades. I invite you to check out the project website; it looks like a glossy travel platform inviting you to Pismo Beach to drink its tourists' treated sewer water—bottoms up!

Not only is the branding misleading to grant providers and residents, including Oceano as a partner is a complete head fake. Oceano Community Services District will never need any of its water and certainly can't afford it—it can't afford its Five Cities Fire Authority services.

Central Coast Blue is in trouble: They set out to put a series of injection wells in the Coastal Dunes RV Park and Campground along Highway 1. Millions of dollars were spent evaluating the land and the project's environmental impacts at that location. Most of these costs were paid for by grants, but each of the cities and South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District contributed, too.

A serious issue was brought to their attention when the temporary (intended to be converted to permanent) test well permit was appealed to the California Coastal Commission. The property is improperly zoned for a permanent well. While the Coastal Commission denied the appeal, they did agree the zoning of the land in the campground would need to be changed. This was before $750,000 in grant money was spent drilling the well in that same campground—they drilled anyway.

During the drilling of the test well, Pismo Beach received warnings from the SLO County Planning Department that they were in violation of their permit when they posted ridiculous 20-foot-tall-by-50-foot-long banners promoting the project on the sound walls they had understated in size.

Now Pismo Beach admits that changing the zoning to accommodate the injection wells in the campground is not feasible. Furthermore, they have amended the contract with the engineering firm, WSC, which should have known the land use limitations and should have set out to pursue other parcels to locate the injection wells. WSC has racked up nearly $1 million pursuing the project, and it's nowhere near being permitted or ready to build.

While I often disagree with the Arroyo Grande City Council, I do agree that the governance structure for Central Coast Blue has Pismo Beach, which gets just 200 acre-feet of the recycled water, securely strapped into the driver's seat.

Pismo Beach doesn't want to comply with the Brown Act, claiming it adds cost to the project. This agency doesn't want to perform the people's business in front of the people who are paying the bill. This is taxation without representation.

Let's hope Grover Beach wakes up and joins Arroyo Grande to dump Pismo's Central Coast Blue Kool-Aid like the colonists dumped tea in Boston Harbor. Δ

Julie Tacker writes to New Times from Los Osos. Send a response for publication to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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