Oct 30 2010

Council Member Keating Calls for a Community Discussion

Council Member Garrett Keating has written an open letter to the community asking residents to participate in a discussion on the pros and cons of “outsourcing” the City’s sewer line system to EBMUD.  This question arises due to new and substantial requirements imposed on Bay Area cities by the EPA – and may impact the City’s options regarding the proposed Blair Park development.

Piedmont will face $1.5 million in initial costs from the new requirements, and annual maintenance costs of an unspecified amount thereafter.   Homeowners will face costs for the inspection, and any needed repair, of their private lateral sewer line when selling their home.

An Open Letter to the Community from Council Member Garrett Keating

Should EBMUD run Piedmont’s Sewers?

As difficult as it may sound, our community needs to discuss undergrounded utilities again. This time, the utilities – our sewers – are already underground. What Piedmont needs to decide is how we want to maintain our sewers in light of a recent EPA stipulated order to protect Bay water quality.

Piedmont has updated close to 75% of the city’s sewer system over the past few years – funded through an annual $1M sewer tax. The recent EPA order mandates that private sewer laterals (your connection to the public sewer) be inspected and, if needed, repaired at point of sale of the property. The order also requires municipalities to implement sewer and storm water flow monitoring and to conduct video inspection of sewer systems. At the last City Council meeting, staff estimated an additional $1.5M is needed to comply with the stipulated order ([Budget Status Report, pages 9-10]) and suggested that the annual repair program funded by the sewer tax will likely transition to a maintenance program to comply with the new regulations.

The order does provide municipalities some relief – the order requires that the East Bay Municipal Utilities District negotiate to operate a municipal wastewater system if requested by the municipality (EPA Order], page 22). The order is unclear on the specifics of the negotiations but essentially a city can outsource some and possibly all of its sewer operations to EBMUD if a mutual agreement can be reached.

Could EBMUD operate Piedmont’s wastewater system more cost-effectively than the City itself? Potential cost savings need to be weighed against the loss of autonomy that would come from EBMUD sewer operation – response time will likely be longer.

This issue requires considerable analysis and public comment however there are at least two reasons to proceed with this discussion immediately. First, staff will be proposing an additional $0.6M in the FY11-12 budget to address compliance. Secondly, EBMUD sewer operation would reduce the need for many current functions of the Corporation Yard. Such reductions would facilitate relocation of the Corporation Yard to Blair Park and enable the existing yard to be converted to additional field space adjacent to Coaches Field. A previous comprehensive analysis of recreational needs in town identified just such a solution to Piedmont’s field space shortage.

Piedmont leads East Bay cities in the upgrade of its sewer systems yet is subjected to the same provisions of the recent EPA settlement as the other cities. Negotiation with EBMUD could enable Piedmont to forgo many of the expensive mandates that EPA has imposed on the cities.

Garrett Keating

Piedmont City Council

October 29, 2010

Editor’s Note: Outsourcing is a term often associated with contracting out services provided in-house.  However, the text of the EPA option states EBMUD will “take over ownership and operation” of the City sewer lines via a “transfer of assets”.  To what extent the option is reversible or leaves the City with control over services is unclear.

Full text of EPA Option: “41. It may be in the mutual interest of EBMUD and one or more of the Satellites to have EBMUD take over ownership and operation of all assets included in or necessary to the operation of a Satellite’s collection system.  Any such undertaking will require an agreement between EBMUD and the affected Satellite(s) regarding the disposition of the affected assets and associated revenues and liabilities. 42. No later than 30 days after the Effective Date, EBMUD shall provide notice to the governing bodies of each of the Satellites of its willingness to enter into negotiations concerning undertaking the operation of each Satellite’s collection system.  Such notice shall identify the issues that must be addressed in any such negotiations including, without limitation, issues regarding the transfer of assets and contract rights and the allocation of rights and liabilities.” (EPA Final Stipulated Order, page 22-23.)

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