Point Arena Politics


at which the wastewater improvement project was addressed

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City Council as of 2/27/2007:

Mayor/Roads Commissioner Leslie Dahlhoff
Vice-Mayor/Pier Commissioner Lauren Sinnott
Councilmember/Administration Commissioner Lloyd Cross
Councilmember/Utilities Commissioner Brian Riehl
Councilmember/Public Safety Commissioner Laura Smith

Treasurer: Alice Craig                                City Clerk/Administrator: Claudia Hillary

2/27/2007 Regular City Council Meeting – Agenda item 27: Adoption of Resolution 2007-02, Sewer Service Charges on assessors parcels within the City of Point Arena to be collected with the General Property Taxes. Council decides to collect sewer fees this way, saving time and trouble with bill collecting. This way, owners pay twice a year with property tax bill.

3/27/2007 Regular City Council Meeting:
Agenda item 14: First Reading Ordinance 201 – Payment of Sewer Bills through taxes and increase in sewer bill.
Agenda item 15: First Reading Ordinance 202 – Establishing Regulations Governing Sewer Lateral Inspections & Replacement.
Agenda item 17: First Reading Ordinance 204 – Sewer Rate Increase, from $33 to $41/mo./ESD.

2/26/2008 Regular City Council Meeting – Agenda item 23. Discussion about raising monthly rate/ESD more than the past increase. Study recommended $47.00/mo. But we only went to $41.00/mo., effective last July. Item continued.
February 2008 Brad Nierman hired as Operator-In-Training (OIT).

3/25/2008 Regular City Council Meeting – Agenda item 16. Lloyd Cross reports on WWTP revenue and expense. Mayor Leslie Dahlhoff added that WWTP brought in $175,000 this year but we need a minimum of $180,000 annually and still need to plan for the big things like effluent disposal (suggesting a spray field easement purchase) and we should save for capital reserve. Cross suggests raising the rate by $3.50 with $3.00/mo./ESD for capital reserve and $.50 for capital reserve. Approval of $3.50/mo./ESD (Riehl/Sinnott, 5/0)

4/22/2008 Regular City Council Meeting – Agenda item 20. Public Hearing regarding increasing sewer rates. Mayor Dahlhoff led discussion on wastewater needs and process. She proposes Plant Operator Marshall Marty Hillscan, Councilmember Ingham, Commissioner Riehl and herself be on a team to review needs and budget.

5/27/2008 Regular City Council Meeting -- Agenda item 23. Approved Public Notice of rate increase of $3.50 (changed to $4.00) bringing the monthly rate to $45.00/ESD. The notice text reviews past history:

7/22/2008 Regular City Council Meeting – Agenda item 10: Approval of Final Public Notice to ratepayers increasing from $41.00 to $46.00/mo./ESD; Protest of Proposed Sewer Rate Increase from resident and ratepayer David Ingham detailing his concerns about the record-keeping and process followed by the WWTP.
Agenda item 18. Formation of a “Board of Wastewater Treatment Plant Operations” introduced by Mayor Dahlhoff. WWTP Board will consist of Mayor, all WWTP employees, WWTP Commissioner, City Administrator, and will jointly deal with any issues regarding WWTP operations. Pier Manager Bogdahn asked if the Board would have the responsibility of the WWTP operations. Dahlhoff said it would. Approval was unanimous (Smith/Riehl 3/0).

8/26/2008 and 9/23/2008 Regular City Council Meetings – First and Second Reading of Ordinance 207 establishing sewer rates ($45.00) and school sewer fees effective October 25, 2008. Introduced by Riehl, seconded Smith/ AYES: Cross, Dahlhoff, Riehl, Sinnott, Smith.
WWTP Operator William Marshall resigns November 2008.

12/16/2008 Special City Council Meeting

City Council composition as of January 2009:

Mayor/Administrative Commissioner Lauren Sinnott
Vice-Mayor/Pier Commissioner Laura Smith
Councilmember/Safety Commissioner David Ingham
Councilmember/Public Works Commissioner Joe Riboli
Councilmember/Utilities Commissioner Brian Riehl

New treasurer: former Councilmember Lloyd Cross  City Clerk/Administrator: Claudia Hillary

Phil Francis hired as WWTP Operator (Supervisor; he is Grade 2 certified) February 2009.

3/24/2009 Regular City Council Meeting -- Sinnott reported on the Wastewater Operations Board Meeting the week previous, attended by WWTP Supervisor Phil Frances, Operator Brad Nierman, former WWTP Supervisor Marty Hillscan, Sinnott and two USDA representatives (teleconference). Francis confirms need for sludge removal.
Phil Francis resigns by April 2009

Spring 2009 Newsletter (approved 3/24/2009 and mailed to ratepayers and residents) communicates with the public that the City has applied for USDA Rural Communities grant/loan for $2.1 million to upgrade our sewer system. Clerk Hillary, who also writes about Scott Place improvements being a high priority, describes the elements of the project. Hillary writes about the authorization of grants on a scale determined by community need and income level. Small, low median income communities like ours will rate high. She states we may expect grant assistance of 50% - 75% of project costs.
The Newsletter also introduces “new faces” at the WWTP: Brad Nierman, OIT working toward certification and Phil Frances, a Grade 2 Operator who was just hired, previously at Ukiah Sanitation District.

5/22/2009 Special City Council Workshop -- Scott Place history and sewer design are discussed. There has never been a main line for Scott; all the laterals are spider-webbed together. Staffing clarification and restructure are discussed/decided. Tom becomes Streets Supervisor. Marty has the Operator’s license for WWTP and can remain the Supervisor until Brad qualifies. Phil Frances is no longer with us. We will hire later for an Operator-in-Training for Wastewater.  For now, we can run the plant mainly Brad working under Marty’s certification.

Treasurer Lloyd Cross has resigned and Council conducts search for replacement.
Clara Frost appointed to replace him in July 2009.
Laura Smith resigns July 2009
Eloisa Oropeza appointed to replace her.

6/23/2009 Regular City Council Meeting -- Scott Place: decision to go under the street with laterals. Approve the plans: (M/S/C Riboli/Riehl unanimous) Agenda Item 16: Scott place Notice to bidders and Residents.  Agenda Item 20. USDA WWTP Application Conference

9/1/09 Special City Council Meeting for USDA grant/loan application status. All councilmembers present except Riehl. WWTP staff: Brad Nierman and Marty Hillscan present. Detailed presentation by Hillscan and Nierman about the plant’s priority projects, including sludge removal, adding aeration, effluent disposal, lateral replacement and rehabilitation of 38 manholes. Vice-Mayor Ingham will prepare a draft RFP (Request for Proposals) The continuing WWTP grant/loan application process will move forward, to be placed on next agenda. YES to move forward, unanimous.

9/22/09 Regular City Council Meeting – Iagenda item 10. Discussion/Action (D/A)  re: USDA grant/loan application status. Agenda item 17. D/A re: RFQ for engineering required for USDA grant. Clerk Hillary started the process. She and David will work on RFQ. Selection Committee shall be Joe Riboli, David Ingham, Claudia Hillary, Marty Hillscan and Brad Nierman. VOTE: YES (Sinnott, Ingham, Riboli)  ABSTAIN: Eloisa  ABSENT: Riehl

10/26/2009 Wastewater Operations Board Meeting. Attended by Brad Nierman, Claudia Hillary. Minutes:

10/27/09 Regular City Council Meeting – Discussion/Action re: update on USDA grant/loan application status.
Nierman Staff report:
Marty resigns from WWTP Supervisor position, as planned. Nierman won’t have test results until 1/4/10. Water Quality rep said the interval without a licensed operator is acceptable. USDA grant is for the long term. We need to remove sludge now! Next summer. By means of loan and/or rate increase. Should have happened every 10 yrs. Now it’s been 30 years. Probably will cost $200,000.

11/23/2009 Wastewater Operations Board Meeting. Attended by Eloisa Oropeza, Lauren Sinnott, Brad Nierman, Claudia Hillary. Agenda items include hiring new WWTP employee, setting a firm date for removal of sludge and action regarding the USDA grant application.

11/24/09 Regular City Council Meeting – Hillscan will not renew his operator’s license in December. Nierman has passed his test, taken in October, and will get certificate early next year. Nierman took the wrong test (water, rather than wastewater) earlier in the year. Agenda item 12. Discussion/action re: WWTP sludge removal. Set April 1 to June 30, 2010 as the target time period. Agenda item 19. USDA grant update: Two firms, Winzler & Kelly (W&K) and Coastland were selected out of about eight applicants to interview for the Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) contract.  Coastland has already come to interview and visit the plant with Nierman and Ingham. Winzler & Kelly will be here November 30 at 11am.

12/14/2009 Special City Council Meeting:

1/14/2010 Special City Council Meeting -- (Councilmembers Sinnott, Ingham, Riboli, Oropeza; staff Bradley Nierman PRESENT; Councilmember Riehl ABSENT)

Brian Murphy hired as Operator in Training (OIT) 1/28/2010

2/22/2010 Wastewater Operations Board/Special City Council Meeting Councilmembers Eloisa Oropeza, David Ingham, Lauren Sinnott present; staff Claudia Hillary, Brad Nierman, Brian Murphy present.

“Council is considering several options for financing capital repairs and improvements at the Wastewater Plant. The number one priority according to the Plant Operator is removing the accumulated sludge from our treatment ponds this summer to bring the city back into compliance with our Discharge Permit. The estimated cost for this removal is $200,000. Other short term projects that should be accomplished as soon as possible include spray field land easement or acquisition ($180,000 est.) and headwork’s upgrades including new grinder and automated debris screen ($3,000). The cost of these short-term repairs/replacements/acquisitions is approximately $383,000.”

Clerk Hillary’s staff report goes on to describe “Longer term improvements that must be made include city-owned sewer line repairs and replacements and privately-owned lateral replacements. According to the Coastland study and subsequent revaluing for the USDA project, sewer line repairs and replacement are estimated to cost the City $3 million and lateral replacements are estimated to cost homeowners more than $500,000.”

The Clerk’s report continues: “The City has submitted a pre-application to USDA requesting $3.7 million loan/grant combination to affect these repairs/improvements. Our pre-application has already been accepted by USDA and the next step toward pursuing this particular loan/grant is to have a Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) completed to meet USDA requirements for application submittal.”

“The City went through the RFQ process and received three qualified responses from engineering firms: the City ultimately chose Winzler and Kelly (W&K) to prepare the PER that is a prerequisite for the WWTP loan/grant application to USDA. The cost of the PER is expected to be $47,000. One advantage of the report could be that the City gets an updated cost estimate of the necessary repairs; also having fresh eyes look at the entire system could provide other lower-cost options not discussed in the 2006 Coastland study. Finally, this report could possibly be used as a rate study if we were to include that in the Task Order.”

Clerk Hillary’s staff report continues: “Considerations: 1. The cost of the PER is probably reimbursable from USDA; the reimbursement would be in the form of a loan/grant combination. 2. W&K has told Council that there is no practical way to get funding to remove the sludge this summer other than borrowing. Any borrowing we do will most likely not be reimbursable under any funding mechanism suggested by W&K including USDA. W&K has suggested waiting until next year to do this with USDA money but that option keeps us out of compliance with Water Quality.” The report goes on to detail loan/repayment options if the City borrowed from its own Revolving Loan Fund for sludge removal, with repayment involving a per customer monthly increase ranging from $1.73 to $6.80 over a period ranging from 40 to 7.5 years.”

Extensive discussion ensues. Nierman does not like the elements of Task Order 1, but understands we need to do a PER. He wants to limit it. Others have understood from USDA that the PER must capture all aspects of the system, whether or not particular elements are undertaken. Nierman repeated his priority list: 1. Sludge removal  2. Acquiring land for effluent   3. Scott Place manhole fix   4. Rate Increase justification. Councilmembers agree about the needs, but hold opinion that these priority tasks are exactly what we are trying to accomplish by means of the PER process.

2/23/2010 Regular City Council Meeting: Agenda item19. Approval of Winzler & Kelly Basic Contract and Task Order 1 regarding Wastewater Improvement Project. Moved Ingham, seconded Oropeza; approved 4/0 (Riehl absent) The Task Order 1 includes three Tasks:
No. 1 The PER, addressing the entire system and reviewing options for each element, for $34,400.
No. 2 Funding Assistance, including USDA, ARRA, Prop 50, IBANK and other sources, for $4,500.
No. 3 The required Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the PER, for $6,000.
Total: $44,900

3/4/2010 Special City Council Meeting: Winzler and Kelly Task Orders regarding Wastewater Improvement Project PER (Neal Carnam and Michael Fritschi from Winzler & Kelly were on teleconference) Packet included USDA description of what a PER must contain and detailed proposal from Winzler & Kelly. PRESENT: Ingham, Oropeza, Riboli, Sinnott (Riehl ABSENT) and WWTP staff Brad Nierman.

3/12/2010 Public Notice created by Clerk/Administrator with input from Operator Nierman, and approved by Council, was mailed by the City to all Point Arena ratepayers regarding proposed rate increase from $45/mo/ESD to $49. The Notice describes the basis for the increase:

“In March 2007 the sewer rates were $33 per ESD (equivalent single family dwelling). The Point Arena Wastewater Utility Committee calculated that the monthly rate should be raised by $16 to meet the recommendations of a 2006 Coastland Engineering Wastewater System Study, but decided to recommend a partial rate increase of $8 with a review in one year. [Ordinance 204]”

“The 2008 review continued to show a deficit and a need to again increase rates. Council again took a conservative approach and raised the rate$4.00 for a monthly rate of $45.00/ESD. [Ordinance 208]

“This year’s review of the Wastewater budget shows that the rate increase instituted in October 2008 has made some progress toward easing the Wastewater Treatment Plant budget deficit. For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2009 revenues were finally sufficient to cover operating expenses and the plant ‘broke even’; however there was still insufficient money to set anything aside for capital improvements. The City has deferred capital improvement projects in the past to avoid borrowing in order to keep your sewer rates low, but this strategy has left us with an aging infrastructure in need of repair and maintenance. According to the 2006 study the Wastewater plant should have been setting aside $30,000 per year to cover major operations expenses such as the sludge removal and equipment replacement, but revenue shortfalls have prevented this from happening.”

3/22/2010 Special City Council Meeting and Wastewater Operations Board Meeting:  Winzler and Kelly Task Order (Neal Carnam was dialed in for a telephone conference) PRESENT: Ingham, Oropeza, Sinnott, as well as Brad Nierman and Marty Hillscan. A staff report was prepared by the Clerk on the improvement funding options before us and the discussion was extensive. 

7/27/2010 Regular City Council Meeting: Presentation of Draft PER from Winzler & Kelly

8/24/2010 Regular City Council Meeting: Presentation of Final PER from Winzler & Kelly. Item continued to a Special Meeting in order to receive additional input from Wastewater Supervisor.

9/9/2010 Special City Council Meeting: Final PER from Winzler & Kelly. Meeting could not proceed for lack of quorum – PRESENT: Sinnott, Ingham.   ABSENT EXCUSED: Council members Riboli and Oropeza   ABSENT UNEXCUSED: Council member Riehl.

9/28/2010 Regular City Council Meeting: Final PER from Winzler & Kelly was approved unanimously. Meeting notes reveal Supervisor Nierman recommending approval and stating that we know what are priorities are: sludge removal and securing a spray field after the current agreement expires this December.
Minutes: “Agenda Item 19. Discussion / Action regarding accepting the Preliminary Engineering Report for the Wastewater Plant Wastewater Treatment Plant Supervisor Brad Nierman spoke and stated that the Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) is primarily designed to get funding for the City’s wastewater system through USDA. He feels there are still a few small errors in the report, but he recommends Council accept the report. He states that we know what our priorities are: the sludge removal and the fact that our spray field lease will expire at the end of this December. We will need to find a way to deal with our extra water in the wet winter months. These are our priorities.”

Motion to approve the Winzler & Kelly Final Preliminary Engineering Report for the Point Arena Wastewater Facilities: Oropeza; Second: Ingham; Ayes: Oropeza, Riboli, Riehl, Ingham, Sinnott. Noes: None. Abstain: None

11/16/2010 Special City Council Meeting: Authorization of representative to interface with agencies regarding Wastewater Improvement. (Item continued)

Councilmember Brian Riehl has resigned.
Hunter Alexander hired as new City Clerk/Administrator

11/23/2010 Regular City Council Meeting: Designate authorized signatory to documents related to the Wastewater Improvement Project and review of pre-application to State Water Resources Control Board. Utilities commissioner is designated with understanding that Council will designate Clerk when ready.

12/7/2010 Special City Council Meeting: Special meeting of the City of Point Arena City Council to hear findings from Project Manager Neal Carnam of wastewater engineering firm Winzler and Kelly, relative to City of Point Arena’s Wastewater Improvement Project and related agreement for engineering services and funding options.

All Council and City Staff Present: City Clerk/Administrator Alexander; Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators Brad Nierman and Brian Murphy.  Guest Speakers, Special Guests, Media and Constituency: Neal Carnam, Managing Project Engineer, Winzler & Kelly; Rebecca Crow, Project Engineer, Winzler & Kelly, Independent Coast Observer reporter Glenn O’Hara; Councilmember-elect Terry Hughey and approximately fifteen constituents/guests in attendance.
Members of the public include Jim Koogle, Doug Burke, Richie Wasserman, Chris Campbell, Patricia Schwindt, Lloyd Cross, Ronna Frost, Bill Hay, Greg Jirak, Lori Hubbert and Mitch McFarland. Kevin Gallagher arrived somewhat later.

The discussion was wide-ranging covering all aspects of the WWTP, the purpose of the PER (to gain funding), the likelihood of grant vs. loan (somewhere between 50% to 70% grant money, probably towards the higher end) and the fact that the $3.2 million project can be broken down into parts or phasing after funding is secured. There were many questions from the audience, addressed individually by Carnam, who also outlined the company’s past history with small plants like ours. It is what they specialize in. It’s a process; there is money out there. Neither the federal nor state government wants these small companies to fail. They are there to help us but we have to play by the rules.

There are two ways to go: the community can take a piecemeal approach and pay for everything itself or it can put together a comprehensive, long-term plan and seek outside money in the form of low-interest loan and grants. Most communities take this path. If we take this path (with a PER) we can qualify for CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) funds for the private lateral replacement. Without PER we can’t get this money. CDBG money is given preferentially to disadvantaged communities. We are “small and poor,” and would rank high. It is the City’s goal to minimize a rate increase.

Operator Nierman submits a report regarding the PER and setting forth his four top priorities for the WWTP:     1. Sludge removal     2. Acquisition of 4 acres of blufftop land for effluent disposal     3. Connect Scott Place to Main St. main line and repair of manhole #10 on Highway 1     4. Seek funds for replacement of private laterals. He does not support:    1. The collection system improvements     2. Headworks improvements    3. Back-up power improvement. Nierman’s report claims that the PTO-driven pump is adequate. W&K have put forth that using the aging tractor to run the pump in an emergency is not good enough, does not provide enough security. W&K also think headwork’s improvements are good and popular with operators, shielding them from direct contact with sewage.

Meeting Minutes: “Neal Carnam of Winzler and Kelley outlined the findings of the Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) which addresses the condition and needs of the Point Arena Wastewater Facility and analyzes options for each element of the system. The Final PER was approved on Sept. 26, 2010. Mr. Carnam noting the following:

Mr. Carnam commented to the selected project elements, noting that although some project components can be implemented separately, it is best to integrate the parts into a complete and comprehensive project that would be acceptable to funding agencies.

The proposed project consists of Collection System Improvements, Headworks Improvements; Secondary Treatment System Improvements; Effluent Disposal Improvements, and Back-up Power.  Components of this improvements include, but are not limited to:

Discussion led to funding necessities and proposed project costs.  The possible cost for this project is $3,258,000.  The Equivalent Service Dwelling (ESD) cost per household might increase above the current $49/month by about $15 dollars.  This rate increase would pay for services, contribute to reserve funding and assist in loan repayment.  The life of the project improvements is 40 – 60 years. These potential rates are comparable to or less than the rates charged by other very small utilities in our area.

Funding opportunities exist with USEPA and USDA-RD, and both these entities look at the feasibility levels for small communities.   The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) is currently drafting guidelines for funding small systems in economically disadvantaged communities, and could potentially provide grant funding for up to 50% of the project.  There are additional Federal and State lending opportunities for infrastructure improvement, including dual track lending/funding.  Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding may be available for the lateral replacement portion of the project, which is not fundable with federal money since the laterals are privately owned. CDBG programs favor funding assistance for lower income areas such as Point Arena. 

Constituents expressed concern regarding the privately owned laterals and the cost of replacing them.  Mr. Carnam stated that there are normally two parts to the lateral; the city owned portion in the right away (in most cases, under the roadway) and the section that is on private property. Point Arena is unusual, in that the private property owner actually is the owner of and legally responsible for the lateral all the way to the main, in other words, under the roadway. This is burdensome to the owner because of the cost of encroaching into the roadway. He further explained that by ordinance, the city could take ownership of the part of the laterals under the roadway. This action would be beneficial to the landowners. 

Reef Atwell, USDA representative, had communicated and/or met with City staff and councilmembers to discuss the application process.  USDA representative had provided a checklist of approximately 22 items that need to be completed. Collectively the City’s staff, legal counsel and engineering specialist will be able to complete tasks.  The Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) was the first necessary element in order to qualify for outside funding. The next step will be the engineering services agreement with Winzler & Kelley for the continuing process.  

Mr. Carnam, responding to comments from those in attendance, noted that Coastland Civil Engineering had previously looked at the City’s Wastewater Treatment Plant and identified the same areas of concern. Emphasizing that these problems are not new, Mr. Carman commented that the City’s plant operator, Winzler & Kelly staff, and the City Council have taken a lengthy look at the condition and future needs of the plant, a process that has played out over the course of at least 11 meetings and an entire year.  The collection system has passed its design life with many portions of the collections system being over 80-years old and now introducing excessive amounts of infiltration and inflow and allowing the potential for exfiltration to occur.  Deferred solids removal in the Secondary Treatment System needs to be addressed for the continued functionality of the City wastewater facility.  Especially in light of the expiring lease of the spray field, the collection system’s wet weather hydraulic capacity needs to be addressed in order to continue to prevent sewage spills and exfiltration into grounds waters (public health risk and potential environmental damage) 

The most efficient way to address the needs for this project is to do so comprehensively.  To piecemeal the work will cost the City more in the long run.  Regardless of the project size, from a $100,000 dollar project to a $3 million dollar project, the preparation requirements cost the same amount.  Funding opportunities are competitive, and offering a complete project is critical. If an applicant offers a part of a project piece-meal, the state and federal government may loan you money. If the applicant offers a comprehensive and engineered project, the state and federal government will give you money. Economically disadvantaged communities such as ours qualify for maximum grant funding, likely to be 50%, perhaps more. In addition, with a comprehensive engineered project, the City may qualify for perhaps $600,000 in CDBG money, bringing the portion of project funding for which the City is responsible to about 35% - 40%.

Councilmember Ingham and Mayor Sinnott commented on the engineering agreement and potential funding, noting that the Preliminary Engineering Report was a necessary part of the process. Sinnott noted that Winzler & Kelly’s accurate construction estimates, excellent record of unchallenged environmental documents and experience in securing a high proportion of grant to loan money were important factors in the selection of this firm.
Mr. Carnam responded to an inquiry as to the payment of his services, stating that these are normally part of the project and included in funding. To date the City has spent $50,000 on the Preliminary Engineering Report (PER).  [Please refer to the Task Order 1 elements above, 2/23/2010, for the exact amounts, totaling $44,900]
The project goal is to have an efficient system, no matter who is operating the plant, a system robust enough to handle the needs of the city now and in the future. Furthermore, the goal is to achieve plant functionality for the next 40 years while minimizing the rate increase. Neal stated that any project regardless of size will have several of the same requirements, such as environmental documents and engineering reports. It is better to thoroughly prepare necessary documentation once for the whole project, rather than each time you decide to take on a part of the project.  Winzler & Kelly project engineer Rebecca Crow stated that the initial costs, incurred relating to project timelines, are eligible to be funded within the overall funding package.

In response to an inquiry relative to project time line, Mr. Carnam responded that it is possible that by next summer we would be into the construction phase if everything remains on track. Next steps are real property and easement issues – this is often a lengthy process. Dealing with the environmental issues will also be time consuming. 

Councilmember Oropeza expressed concern over justification of specific line item expenses, noting her limited experience in such expenditures.  She further expressed an interest in conferring with community members who have historical and professional knowledge in this specific area, noting several persons in attendance.

CONSENSUS of COUNCIL that Councilmember Oropeza is to call for a Utilities Committee, which intends to study the Wastewater Improvement Project. The Committee may be approved at the December 14, 2010 City Council Meeting.  (Those in attendance were encouraged to participate and additional project materials were offered)

MOTION to 1). Direct City Clerk/Administrator Alexander to complete the agreement/forms in communication with Utilities Commissioner, with assistance from Winzler & Kelly, by January 1, 2011.  2) Submittal of completed agreement/forms to City Attorney Brecher for his review, his approval to be received prior to January 15, 2011.  3). Post the completed agreement with exhibits and checklist to the City’s website in preparation of the January 25, 2011 Regular City Council Meeting, made by Councilmember Ingham, seconded by Mayor Sinnott.  Motion carried by the following roll call vote: AYES: Councilmembers Ingham, Riboli, Oropeza, and Mayor Sinnott. NOES: None. ABSENT: None. ABSTAIN: None.

Please note that the Utilities Committee meeting currently in 2011 is the one called by Oropeza, referenced above.

The Wastewater Treatment Plant Operations Board was created 7/22/2008, spearheaded by then-Mayor Dahlhoff. It consists of the Mayor, all WWTP employees, the WWTP Commissioner, the City Clerk/Administrator and was tasked with jointly dealing with any issues regarding WWTP operations.

Point Arena Wastewater Treatment Plant

The wastewater system of Point Arena dates to the 1930s, when – according to anecdotal accounts – it was built as a WPA project with hand-dug sewer mains during the Great Depression. The system was very simple and, in the manner of those days, discharged directly into Arena Creek.
About 30 years ago, the modern plant was built. The old ponds were dredged and the sludge cleaned out. The ponds were enlarged, lined with clay and contained within concrete walls. The modern central facility was constructed with its aerators, chlorination system and percolation ponds. Sewage was now treated and effluent no longer flowed into any body of water. This engineered upgrade and extension project was funded by a Clean Water grant and the system thence forward was regulated by the State Water Resources Control Board. The plant’s O&M Manual guides daily and long-term operations, tests, maintenance, and compliance measures. It is regularly updated to comply with Water Quality requirements.

The removal of sludge from the ponds should ideally be performed every ten years. The process is expensive and sewer rates were always set just high enough to run the plant but not high enough to save for major improvements. Small systems do not enjoy economy of scale and past Councils have been reluctant to raise rates sufficiently to fund the process. Thus, our ponds have not been dredged since the plant was rebuilt, and meanwhile sludge removal has become an increasingly expensive prospect over the decades during which the process has been delayed.
Some years ago the City Council began to match rates to the actual cost of operation. Currently a household pays $49/month. But, as can be seen in the descriptions above, that is not enough extra money to pay for the sludge removal, nor for other long-term maintenance and improvement. The Council has committed to removal of the sludge as soon as possible. The City has enough money to fund/loan to the WWTP to remove the sludge. Funding for other capital improvements must come from outside our city (USDA grant/loan, CDBG) or from rate increases.
The Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) the City commissioned and the USDA Pre-Application process are the first steps to secure outside funding. To see that the PER process and a consideration of major WWTP projects was done with the full engagement of Council, Wastewater staff and the public, please review the detailed list of meetings and agenda items above.
The firm selected by Council to carry out the PER was Winzler & Kelly (W&K), which specializes in wastewater projects for small rural communities. W&K has completed 24 projects in northern California, including Hayfork, Rio Dell, Westport, Trinidad and Crescent City. The expertise of their staff in gaining financing was important to the City’s selection team when they were chosen. Among 29 projects, W&K secured $26 million dollars in grant funding (free money). Additionally, they demonstrated accurate cost estimation and successful (unchallenged) environmental documentation in past projects.
The Wastewater Improvement Project (described in the PER) has separate elements corresponding to the elements of the system:

As required by grantors, alternative approaches were considered in all areas and then preferred improvements selected for each. Doing everything would be expensive, but the parts may also be undertaken separately. Nonetheless, funding agencies want to see your whole plan (hence the PER intentionally captured all of the City’s needs.) In addition, agencies will not fund activities you have undertaken before applying. This is why the current City Council wanted to include the sludge removal in the PER/USDA process. Over the years, we have not charged enough to save for sludge removal, as a barest minimum action needed now. The cost of the PER ($44,900) is likely to be able to be rolled into the loan/grant. The economic status of Point Arena will make it eligible for the highest proportion of grant to loan. While the plant itself may be ultimately quite simple and efficient (once the sludge is gone), seeking and acquiring funding and planning major capital improvements are not. The City Council has undertaken this project with the full and detailed technical input of all staff and in the conviction that it is the necessary path leading to wastewater health for decades to come.
The PER is 75 pages of detailed description, analysis and improvement options for our system. Digital copies are available to the public at no cost at City Hall and it may also be accessed on the city’s website at http://www.cityofpointarena.com

Please note that items relating to the Wastewater Improvement Project was heard at a numerous meetings now in 2011. This list will be updated soon.

Submitted by Lauren Sinnott, Mayor