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Learn from Los Osos 

Morro Bay residents should support a new water reclamation facility and avoid escalating costs

I moved to Morro Bay in 2016 and served as interim city manager for Morro Bay from June to November 2017. In my 30-year local government career, I have been involved in the development and construction of numerous public works projects, but none as controversial and complex as the water reclamation facility (WRF) being proposed for the city of Morro Bay.

This project has been beset by controversy since its inception. The city lost a partner in Cayucos after an appeal at the California Coastal Commission; costs have escalated beyond expectations; and numerous locations and alternate designs have been pursued. This is a frustrating project that, quoting a speaker at my first City Council meeting, "tears at the fabric of our community." However, more delays will undoubtedly lead to higher costs for this project, as the Los Osos experience has shown us.

There is a citizens' group that is promoting a "Plan B" option that is truly a pipe dream: retaining the wastewater plant "at or near its current location" and to "meet with public agencies and develop affordable options." This view is overly optimistic and naïve and simply "kicks the can down the road." While at the city, I participated in a meeting with the Coastal Commission staff, and they made it very clear that they would not support keeping the plant or building a new plant anywhere near the current location. If the Coastal Commission would even consider allowing upgrades to the existing plant, it would only be with a "planned retreat" to move the facility in a 20- to 30-year time frame, thus drastically increasing the long-range costs.

This citizens' group also met with Coastal Commission staff last summer and they failed to obtain any commitment for consideration of keeping the plant at its current location. Rightfully so, given the dangers of costal flooding and ocean rise.

Current funding for the project includes a federal low-interest loan that will fund a new source of water for Morro Bay, and the city is pursuing opportunities for state funding to further reduce costs. I support the WRF project, as further delay will only increase project costs—as it did in Los Osos. The proposed WRF is the appropriate project that deserves to be funded and built. Δ

Martin Lomeli is a Morro Bay resident who served as the Morro Bay interim city manager from June to November 2017. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a letter for publication and email it to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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