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Lynne Plambeck: Development should have to foot the bill

Posted: January 19, 2011 8:11 p.m.
Updated: January 20, 2011 4:55 a.m.

For the last 15 years, the city of Santa Clarita and surrounding areas have experienced unprecedented growth, permitting thousands of new housing units. These units were approved based on water from Northern California that is high in salts called chlorides.

During that same time period, downstream farmers began expressing their concern that the levels of chloride being released by  sanitation plants into the Santa Clara River were well beyond limits of the Clean Water Act and affecting their crops. 

During this time, the planning agencies placed no requirements for fixing this problem on the new development. The Sanitation Districts did not increase connection fees on this development to help pay for reducing to the chloride levels, even though the water it used was causing most of the problem. 

The salt problem continued to be raised throughout the hearings for the 21,000-unit Newhall Ranch project. To address the problem, Los Angeles County required a new sewage-treatment plant to be built for Newhall Ranch when it approved the Specific Plan in 2003.

Newhall Land Development LLC applied for and received a permit for a new sanitation plant from the Regional Water Quality Board for the Ranch project.

 Again, with the chloride problem in mind, the Water Quality Board required the plant to remove chlorides from any releases to the river.

Now, eight years later, Newhall Land wants to avoid building the new sanitation plant and instead hook up to the existing Valencia treatment plant, thus adding to the chloride problem.

Although it is a requirement of the specific plan with which they must comply, the environmental documents for the first two tracts of Newhall Ranch, totaling about 6,000 units, indicate the company “may” use the Valencia treatment plant.
Why should you care?

Because that would mean that you would once again be paying for the cost of removing chloride salts for new development.

Once again, the developer is attempting to transfer the costs of his development to the local taxpayers, this time through an increase in sewer fees.

At hearings last year, attended by hundreds of angry residents, our community made it clear to the Sanitation Districts’ Board that they strongly objected to an increase in sewer fees.

The Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment asked why these fees had not been included to connection fees for new development over the last 15 years.

After all, meeting the Clean Water Act limits for salt in the river was not a new issue, the problem and the solutions were well known to the Sanitation Districts. Why wasn’t the cost of this new needed infrastructure included in the cost of connection fees for new development, as it should have been?

In an agenda item before supervisors Tuesday, it became clear once again that Newhall Land is attempting to avoid building its required salt-free sanitation plant.

While the agenda resolution itself reiterated the formation of a new sanitation district for the treatment plant in Newhall Ranch, the staff also said that the first 6,000 units of Newhall Ranch would use the existing Valencia treatment plant.

It referenced an agreement made with the Sanitation Districts for these 6,000 units.

Several community members, including SCOPE, objected. How could the Sanitation Districts make such an agreement when the Specific Plan required Newhall Land to build its own salt-free plant?  Why didn’t anyone know about this agreement? It was not discussed or disclosed in any of the many environmental documents for this project.

Thanks to Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, these questions may be answered. At Tuesday’s meeting, he directed the Sanitation Districts to respond to the community’s questions. Although he did not set a deadline, we hope that we will receive a copy of their response in the near future.

The same problem will occur in the city if residents don’t watch out.

The 1,350-unit Vista Canyon proposal will need a sewer plant or annexation to a sewer district. At the moment, there is no indication in the environmental document that this plant will be required to remove salts.

Does that mean that the city intends to have the public pick up the tab in its sewer fees?

The recently approved 1,260-unit Skyline Ranch project in the county will also require annexation to a sewer district
Like all new development in the Santa Clarita Valley, much, if not all, of the water for these projects will come from Northern California through the State Water Project, and it is high in chlorides. 

If the city’s sanitation district council members, Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean, want to avoid having our local sewer rates increased, why aren’t they demanding that new development pay the cost of its own infrastructure instead of putting the burden on residents through sewer-fee increases?

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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