Aug 2 2014

Consent Decree Justifies Sewer Tax Opponents and Voters

– Opponents of Sewer Tax Measure Proven Correct – 

While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lawsuit against the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) and communities has been the primary argument on behalf of increasing the Sewer Tax, the EPA settled for an agreement to have the sewer repairs in the involved communities replaced over the next 21 years. In addition, the City of Piedmont will pay two $20,519 civil penalties (to federal and state agencies) for historic discharges. Former Council member Garrett Keating explained the decree penalty will likely be offset by future smoke testing and flow monitoring being done by EBMUD rather than Piedmont, saving the city $20,000 each year.

The City has previously hired E2 Consulting Engineers to conduct the tests, which involve blowing harmless smoke into parts of the sanitary sewer system to find damage, improper connections, and where unwanted storm water may be entering the City’s sanitary sewer system.

The consent decree contains a number of future penalties for failure to fulfill its requirements. The comment period is July 31, 2014 to September 2, 2014.  The Council will explore the ramifications of the agreement at the August 4 City Council meeting. 

The sole signer of the opposing ballot argument to the failed February, 2012 Sewer Tax measure was resident Rick Schiller, who provided context to the agreement:

“The $11 million that was needed 3 years ago magically went down to $1  million earlier this year [2014], and then zero when Real Property Transfer Taxes came in higher than expected. Under our current budget, we can complete the mainline sewers by utilizing inexpensive state loans.  In addition, I suspect a high percentage of Piedmonters, are replacing their private sewer laterals at considerable individual household cost. Piedmont remains at the forefront in compliance.”

Schiller also commented on details of the decree:

1. Piedmont’s Asset Management Implementation Plan (AMIP) put in a year ago is accepted. We knew it would be.
2. Paragraph 96(a) requires a minimum of 1.15% of our system be rehabilitated annually. We are already doing that.
3. We are to categorize needed repairs and Paragraph 100(a)(i) establishes what is high-priority. If repairs are included in that, per Paragraph 100(a)(i) which states P100(a)(i) work counts toward the P96(a) requirements, then we are well ahead. This should be clarified.
4. As I recall, at our current pace without doing three rapid phases utilizing state loans, our system would be finished in about 17 years. The Consent Decree is requiring 21 years. The Council will be going ahead with phasing the rest using the State loans and likely be complete in 12 years.
5. Paragraph 103 makes little sense to me. EPA is requiring a 5 year cleaning schedule of the entire system and this would included the 65% of our mainline that is already replaced? Why?
6. There are Private Sewer Lateral (PSL) mandates for the City at Paragraph 97(a)(b) et al and we voluntarily signed on to that several years ago; we are the “poster child.” We already have those requirements codified.
7. Related to 6 above, would homeowners found to have even a slight offset in their existing PSL be required to repair/replace their entire lateral? Illegal cross-connections should trigger repair, but a single leak in a pipe several feet down contributes virtually nothing to an infiltration of rainwater into the sewer system and realistically a clay PSL triggers total replacement. “

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