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Sanitation District mess is epic honor system fail 

Our community is well educated and generally aware of its environmental responsibilities. However, recognizing a problem, then actually doing something about it can sometimes take us months or years. This has been the case with the South SLO County Sanitation District (SSLOCSD), where the “honor system” failed under the leadership of the Wallace Group and the district’s past board of directors. This failure was most recently illustrated in the Knudsen Report (see New Times, Feb. 25 “The Muck and the Mire”). Since 2010, those closest to the district’s failures were first to speak, as three former district employees provided documented testimony against SSLOCSD leadership. California’s State Water Quality Control Board knows the honor system failed, and the district’s failing leadership contributed to multiple Notices of Violation and the massive sewage spill of December 2010. SSLOCSD’s Director Matthew Guerrero’s reference in the article to the district’s “180 degree turnaround” since the Wallace Group’s departure is also important to note. If the district wasn’t failing, why would the “180” be necessary?

The function of a wastewater treatment plant like SSLOCSD’s is to meet the standards set by the Regional Water Quality Control Board—every day. SSLOCSD discharges treated water to the ocean every day. As ratepayers of the SSLOCSD, the public’s expectation is for discharging standards to be strictly enforced and obtained by SSLOCSD staff and leadership. If standards aren’t being met, it represents an environmental health risk to our county. It also means the district’s ratepayers aren’t getting what they paid for.

The Wallace Group has been well compensated for its service. It’s unfortunate to see some county leaders refute their responsibilities to the environment and to the public, as has been the case with past leadership at the SSLOCSD. Those leaders should not be surprised if the public eventually demands answers. On the other hand, it’s good to see leaders like Arroyo Grande’s Mayor Jim Hill, former Grover Beach Mayor Debbie Peterson, and Sanitation District Director Matthew Guerrero as they continue to trust the process. Because it’s up to us, all of us, to make sure that when the honor system fails, our democratic and legal systems do not.

-- Brad Snook - Arroyo Grande

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