Point Arena Politics


(I promise you won't fall asleep!)

A full list of the many public meetings, newsletters and public notices occuring from 2008 through 2010 at which the wastewater improvement project and wastewater rates and operations were discussed and presented

(Oh dear, you might fall asleep...)

Gentle reader,

Please allow me to introduce you to some of the more compelling aspects of the Point Arena City Council’s approach to long term maintenance and improvement to its Wastewater Treatment System and the pathway towards funding the same.

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 outlined in my previous post, it’s 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 by the next dry season.

Funding for these improvements must come from outside our city.

The Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) we commissioned was the first step to secure funding, which will come in the form of a loan/grant combo.

In order to reassure you 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 following PARTIAL LISTof meetings and agenda items:

Skip beyond this stuff...

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

12/14/2009 Special City Council Meeting:

1/14/2010 Special City Council Meeting: Selection of consultant for Wastewater Improvement Project, on advice of Wastewater Treatment Plant team. PRESENT: Ingham, Oropeza, Riboli, Sinnott and Nierman.

2/23/2010 Regular City Council Meeting: Winzler & Kelly Basic Contract and Task Order 1 regarding Wastewater Improvement Project.

3/4/2010 Special City Council Meeting: Winzler and Kelly Task Order 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 and Nierman.

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: Draft PER from Winzler & Kelly

8/24/2010 Regular City Council Meeting: Final PER from Winzler & Kelly. Item continued to a Special Meeting in order to receive 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. Approved unanimously. My 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.

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

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.

For a full list of meetings and WWTP Ops Board meetings...

Please read on... Back to the PER.

The firm selected by Council to carry out the PER is Winzler & Kelly, 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 us when we selected them. Among 29 projects, W&K secured $26 million dollars in grant funding (free money). Additionally, they demonstrated extremely accurate cost estimation and successful (unchallenged) environmental documentation in past projects.

As to the PER itself, we have been studying the issues all year and the Final Report sets forth our situation quite clearly. The Wastewater Improvement Project has separate elements corresponding to the elements of the system:




Alternative approaches were considered in all areas and 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 our needs) and they will not fund activities you have undertaken before applying. Over the years, we have not charged enough to save for sludge removal, as a barest minimum action needed now. We must seek funding and play by the rules. The cost of the PER ($50,000) 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 or click here to view the PER online.

Please note that items relating to the Wastewater Improvement Project will be heard at a Special City Council Meeting Tuesday Dec. 7 at 6pm at City Hall. This list will receive the agenda today.

Submitted by Lauren Sinnott, Mayor