|Monte Rio's Pork Barrel Sewage Plan
I received this email from Trini Amador (firstname.lastname@example.org) on 3/3/03 concerning an $11 million pork barrel sewage plan that is presently being forced on Monte Rio homeowners and taxpayers:
Community Development Manager
Sonoma County Community Development Commission
1440 Guerneville Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Re: Monte Rio Wastewater Pollution Control Project
Dear Grant Administrator:
I live in and around Monte Rio vehemently object to the funding requests
submitted to multiple agencies (including yours) by the County of Sonoma.
The Monte Rio project is an affront to the local citizenry as well as the
taxpayers of this State. It is not wanted or needed, it is exorbitant on a
per-lot cost basis, and it will continue to be expensive to operate for the
coming decades. At a time when this State is facing a budget crisis and
public funds are in scarce supply, state agencies should carefully consider
every dollar they spend. Our tax dollars should be reserved for truly
necessary and well-conceived projects. This one does not qualifynot by a
Specifically, your agency should decline to allocate any funds to the Monte
Rio Wastewater project because:
- the County's stated concerns about public health and the quality of
Russian River water at Monte Rio are undocumented and, what's worse, a
complete red herring,
- the siting of the plant directly on the banks of the Russian River (well
within the flood plain) raises safety, health and environmental concerns,
- ·the residents of Monte Rio, Villa Grande and Duncans' Mills are adamantly
opposed to the project because it is way too expensive, it is not necessary,
and it is a blight on our community, and
- ·there are alternatives that will protect the river, provide waste
treatment for the entire region (not just 600 lots) and will save the
taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
The Monte Rio Sewer Project ultimately will benefit only a few land
developers, whose properties may increase in value, and the engineers who
will profit from the ever-increasing revenues they will receive from the
major project. The residents of this state should not be taxed to line the
pockets of these few individuals and companies
I. The Imaginary Public Health Crisis
In its funding request to you, the County has stated that that reason the
sewer plant must be built is because of pollution in the Russian River.
What the County deftly ignores, however, is that the 600 lots to be serviced
by the plant are not the cause of any pollution in the River. Thus, the $11
million pet project of Mike Reilly will not fix the problemeven if one
There is no evidence whatsoever of any public health problem associated with
the lower Russian River or the septic systems on the properties around the
river. Most importantly, there is no evidence that any such problem stems
from old or substandard septic systems in the residences or lots located in
the Monte Rio area. To the contrary, sampling of the water at the various
beaches in our area have shown no difference in coliform counts since the
1970's. The beaches have never been closed, to our knowledge, in the past
quarter century. In short, there is no public health problem that will be
solved by this pork barrel project.
Implicit in the County's recent request for funding from your agency is the
suggestion that putting a sewer plant in the Sheridan Meadow at Monte Rio
will solve the alleged problem of old, failing septic systems in the Monte
Rio community. To put it bluntly, that is a lie. Among the 600 lots that
will be hooked up to the Monte Rio sewer project, 200 have not been
developed at all! It does not require any scientific or economic acumen to
conclude that those 200 lots do not have old, substandard septic systems.
Of the remaining 400 developed lots in the assessment district, no one from
the County or its engineering armQuestahas ever attempted to study, much
less document, how many of the 400 lots (if any) have an old or substandard
septic system and how many (if any) of those systems result in pollution in
the Russian River. In fact, no one has spent a moment or a dime answering
the key question of whether there is relationship between the 600 lots to be
serviced by the project and any water quality problem along the Russian
(FOOTNOTE #1) Dr. Daniel Wickham, an experienced limnologist who holds
patents on biological techniques to restore failed leach systems and lives
in Duncans Mills, has analyzed water from near Monte Rio and found nitrates
to be undetectable at the 0.1mg/l level of sensitivity. He concludes that
no nitrates are getting into the groundwater in Monte Rio. This same
conclusion was reached by the County's EIR! Dr. Wickham concurs that the
County has not studied pollution in the Russian River, so far as septic
releases are concerned. Thus, while more than a million dollars will be
spent just on the design of this proposed sewer project, nothing has been
spent determining whether the system is necessary. Notably, the County has
no monitoring program of any sort on the lower stretch of the river, where
the 600 lots and the proposed sewer plant are located.
The County's representation that the proposed project will address a real
public health problem is extraordinarily hypocritical. For example, from
its inception, the project has excluded (for cost reasons) the only location
in the Monte Rio area ever known to have any failing septic systems, i.e.,
certain residences on Starrett Hill. Moreover, according to the Questa 10%
Design Report, the County recently re-drew the project boundaries to exclude
8 residences and additional lots along the uphill side of Monte Rio Avenue.
In place of those hard to reach residences, the County substituted the Monte
Rio School, which admittedly has a new septic system that is totally up to
"code" and functioning well.
So why do the residents of Monte Rio "need" for your agency to fund a large,
expensive sewage plant alongside its beautiful river? First, the County has
told you that Monte Rio is a 'financially challenged community.' The County
further represents that, because the residents are low income, they cannot
afford to take care of the (unproven) pollution caused by their (allegedly
old) septic systems. What the County has not told you is that at least 1/3
of the 600 lots to be serviced are undeveloped lots owned by developers that
financially are very well off. Moreover, we are aware of no study
whatsoever establishing the income of the owners of the other 400 lots.
While we have requested relevant information from the County for over a
year, we have received no documentation for the 160 lots that it now claims
need taxpayer money to hook up to the sewer system.(2)
(FOOTNOTE #2) We question this number because many residences in Monte Rio
are rental units. Thus, while the occupants may have a low income, the
owners of the properties are not so 'challenged.' Furthermore, in the years
that this project has been pending, the average income in Monte Rio has
significantly increased while the County's estimates of 'low income' lots
The only other justification for this project is the existence of a 'Waiver
Prohibition Area' imposed by the County and the North Coast Regional Water
Quality Control Board in 1997 because of the allegedbut
non-existentpollution in the Russian River. The waiver prohibition has
prohibited residents of a very large area (far bigger than the 600 lots to
be serviced by the proposed sewer plant) from enlarging or reconstructing
their homes for the past five years. However, as noted above, because there
is no pollution resulting from the 600 lots, it is ludicrous to argue that a
sewer plant on Sheridan Meadow will obviate the waiver prohibition. And, in
fact, neither Mike Reilly nor anyone else has ever suggested that the
prohibition will be lifted if this plant is constructed!
II. Political Shenanigans
The County is playing fast and loose with the community, the State and the
USDA in connection with its ongoing funding requests. At this very moment,
the County is seeking more than $11 million dollars in funds from State
(Small Community Grant Program) and federal (USDA Rural Utilities Services
Program) and county (Community Development Commission) funds. There is just
one catch, as the County's legal counsel revealed several months ago. The
County will lose any chance of obtaining the State and Federal funds if it
has to establish a new local district to operate the sewer. See Agenda Item
Summary Report of County of Sonoma PRMD, February 6, 2001 (indicating that
'there is significant risk of losing State and Federal grants totaling $6
million if the option of creating a new district is pursued at this time in
the funding process'). The County also is well aware that no existing local
district or agency is willing to take charge of this controversial and risky
(3)FOOTNOTE #3 Late last year the County tried, through arm twisting and
political maneuvering, to force the Sweetwater Springs Water District to
take over operational control of the sewer. The board's vote reflected its
constituency, local ratepayers and their vote was a unanimous 'no.' If
Sweetwater is asked, again, to become a sewer district, we are confident
that the Board will again reject the proposal.
To avoid this problem while still obtaining millions of dollars in grants,
the County recently voted to establish a 'Zone of Benefit' under CSA 41.
Just as soon as construction is complete, the County will 'initiate the
process for transferring ownership of the facility six months after
completion of construction to an existing local district. If an existing
district will not assume ownership of the facility, PRMD will pursue
creation of a new local district to take over local control and ownership of
the facility.' In other words, the County is tricking the state and federal
agencies into funding the project now under the pretense that a new district
will not be necessary. In fact, the County knows full well that it is going
to have to create a new district to operate the sewer once it is
III. Safety Issues
The Sheridan Meadow location is not a suitable site for a large, raw sewage
treatment plant and acres of leach lines because it is located right in the
middle of a flood plain. The Russian River floods every year. The Sheridan
Meadow soil will be saturated during most winters and will flood at least
every ten years or so. When that happens, the system will have to shut
downand we will all pray that the flooding doesn't damage the equipment or
release dangerous sewage into the river and our yards. In addition, power
outages lasting for days are not uncommon in this area. The County has no
provisionother than wholesale evacuation of the affected homesfor dealing
with a power outage such as we experienced last December. (Septic systems
do not shut down when the power goes off.)
Second, the County propose to install sewage pipes right next to water pipes
along Moscow Road and across the Monte Rio bridge, which is currently
undergoing a seismic upgrade.
(4)FOOTNOTE #4 For good reasons, local regulations require a 10 foot offset
between sewage and water pipes. Questa plans to seek a variance from this
safety regulation because Moscow Road is too narrow to comply with safety
The engineers have yet to give the public a plan to ensure that the
6-inch pipe will not break when the sections of the bridge are violently
shaking and twisting, independently of one another.
(5)FOOTNOTE #5 The current proposal for the bridge includes isolation bearings
at each bridge pier. The design engineers for the sewage plant have
explained that, during an earthquake, 'each bridge section will move
independently of the next, out of phase, with as much as 1-foot lateral
shear, for a maximum differential of 2 feet.' Report of Waste Discharge for
Monte Rio Wastewater Pollution Control Project,' submitted March 5, 2001 by
Questa Engineering, at 2-5. In addition, the seismic upgrade will allow for
6 inches of vertical movement. According to Questa, 'this will add
considerable complexity to the design of the pipeline crossing, which must
be coordinated very closely with the bridge retrofit work and may involve
some minor structural changes to the bridge framework.' Letter of February
28, 2001, from Questa to PRMD.
In fact, the design group working on the sewer project (Questa)
recommended that a second design group (Imbsen & Associates) take
responsibility for figuring out how to pipe the raw sewage across the
bridge. As they previously explained, '[I]t is critical that the pipeline
be incorporated into Imbsen's overall bridge design in order to properly
design the bearings to withstand the additional load of the pipeline.'
Letter of February 28, 2001 from Questa to PRMD.
Third, the 8-inch pipe carrying the sewage for treatment will be located
along Highway 116, a very narrow, scenic road subject to earthquakes and
landslides. It is quite predictable that this pipeline will rupture
numerous times in the future.
Currently, the estimated cost for constructing the sewer project is nearly
$11,000,000. That sum is in addition to the EIR and design costs and does
not reflect the annual operating and maintenance costs that will be paid by
the people of Monte Rio. As much as a year ago, the O&M were estimated at $
$327,000, which works out to $85 per month for each single family residence
to pay in addition to all of their other utility bills. This O&M figure
does not include any of the money that must be repaid to the County or State
for 'loans' made to finance the design or construction phases.
(6)FOOTNOTE #6 Currently, and without any notice to the taxpayers, the County
has 'loaned' $143,442 to the design of the project because it was unable to
find sufficient grants to finance the design. County documents confirm that
this loan will 'be repaid by rate payers after the system is completed.'
The recent loan is in addition to $87,000 previously allocated to the
project from District Formation Funds, which amount also will be repaid by
the ratepayers assuming that a district is formed and the project is
approved by the Monte Rio citizens.
Of course, the $11 million figure is not the final word on the project
costs. The most important hidden figure is the cost of taking the Sheridan
Meadow property by eminent domain, and paying the owners a fair amount for
ruining their entire ranch. The owners have made clear that they will not
permit the County to use the property for sewage treatment. While the
County has suggested the ridiculous amount of $200,000 to take an 'easement'
to the property, it is clear that a full fee interest will have to be
takenor nothing. Moreover, the owners will have to be compensated for the
damage to the remainder of the Sheridan Ranch. Thus, the County is going to
have to pony up millions of dollars to acquire the property by eminent
domain, in addition to legal and expert fees to take the case to court.
Incidentally, another of the viable options, connecting to the Guerneville
plant, was not chosen because of its 'cost.' The Sheridan option has now
surpassed hooking to the Guerneville plant one where many more dwellings
would be able to hook up &Mac246; imagine the upgrade Guerneville could get for
Finally, we emphasize to all agencies that there is an alternative to
address any waste water problem that exists in this area along the river.
Recently, a proposal was put forward for the creation of a sewer district
based on on-site septic systemsthe type of system that is best suited for
the hilly terrain and is the most affordable for the citizens of the area.
Local septic systems are by far the most reliable and most effective, which
is why they are approved by the EPA, among others. Upgrading our septic
systems (where needed) would cost a fraction of what the County proposes to
spend on the centralized sewer plant, and yet would address thousands of
homes, not just the 600 serviced by the 'barn' at Sheridan Meadow. The
County has steadfastly refused to address this obvious, practical
alternative. Why? They won't tell us. Youand weare entitled to an
V. Environmental Problems
Highway 116 is a designated scenic highway, which prohibits construction of
buildings within 10 feet of the road. The County is proposing to ignore
this designation and build the sewer plant right alongside the road. Why?
Because the building must be as far away as possible from the Russian River,
which regularly floods into the Sheridan Meadow. So what is the County's
solution to this blight in our scenic area? Build the plant to look like a
barn! Unfortunately, they cannot make the trucks and other heavy equipment
necessary to operate and maintain the plant appear to be cows and horses.
From Monte Rio to the ocean, the river is particularly clean and free from
pollution. The grinder pump sewer system represents a far higher hazard to
environmental health than any septic system existing today, especially for
homeowners downstream. Most relevantbut ignored by the Countyis the fact
that the Laguna de Santa Rosa is the source of virtually all the pollution
in the lower river. The Monte Rio project will not impact that source of
pollution at all!
In addition, according to the most recent design, Questa acknowledges that
the sewage wastewater will be piped within six inches of the surface of
Sheridan Meadow throughout the summer months because the underground leach
fields are not able to handle the increased use of the system during the
summer vacation season. This was never disclosed to the community during
the public hearings! The smell from the system (sewage and disinfectant)
will befoul the air up and down the river due to the off-shore breezes we
used to enjoy.
Finally, we note that there are pending proposals to drastically reduce the
flow of the river during summer monthsthe very time when the sewer system
will be used most. The County has not given any consideration to the impact
of such a development on the sewer system or the river itself. Indeed, it
has not prepared the required supplemental EIR to address this new problem.
Thus, many serious questions remain about the ultimate impact the system
would have on our precious environment.
The taxpayers of this State and Country should not be forced to contribute a
penny to the Monte Rio Wastewater project. Before you respond to the County
of Sonoma's request, the taxpayersweare entitled to a full hearing on and
investigation of the County's many misrepresentations and oversights. When
you complete your review of the situation, you will conclude, as we have
done, that this project is a disgrace.
We look forward to your earliest possible response.
Very truly yours,
xxxxxxxxxxx (homeowner, CITY)
Bacterial Contamination along the Lower Russian River
Dr. Daniel Wickham
Duncans Mills, CA
The citizens of the lower Russian River are largely served by septic
disposal systems. It is true that some of these systems are old and a case
can be made that some level of improvement is warranted. Public agencies in
Sonoma County have attempted to portray this situation as one of an urgent
'public health hazard' and have used this to justify imposition of a painful
construction moratorium on the citizenry around Monte Rio.
This moratorium has placed a tremendous economic burden on this group of
property owners, in effect, locking them out of one of the biggest real
estate booms in history. Not only has each of these individuals lost tens
of thousands of dollars in property value, they are now being forced to
accept another equivalent loss to hook up to an exorbitant and burdensome
But, on what does this multimillion dollar 'taking' from the citizens of
Monte Rio rest? Fecal Coliform Bacteria is the name of the game. Public
health agencies measure the concentration of fecal bacteria to determine if
unprocessed human waste is present. It is not that coliform bacteria are
dangerous, after all our intestines are already full of them. The problem
is that if they are present, other pathogens like hepatitis, cholera, etc.
may also be present. Fecal coliform are cheap and easy to measure so
agencies use them as 'indicator' species. Without public exposure to these
pathogens there is no threat to public health, old leaky septic tanks
County public policy states that the threshold for public health is exposure
to 126 viable fecal bacteria per 100 ml of water. They mandate weekly
sampling at public beaches and if they find two consecutive samples
exceeding the threshold they can post and close the beach until the counts
The County and the Regional Board know what the contamination levels are
along the Russian River because they sample the beaches. But, how many of
the citizens have ever seen this data? The answer is almost none, because
the one clear message from these samples is that there is no public health
hazard in Monte Rio related to failing septic systems.
Bacterial samples taken as early as 1971 showed that the Laguna de Santa
Rosa, which drains into the River via Mark West Creek just upstream of
Mirabel, was the major source of pollution to the River, both nutrient
loading and bacteria. Levels of fecal bacteria there were in the thousands
to tens of thousands per 100 ml. By the time the River flowed to Hacienda
Bridge natural processes had cleaned it enough that, while the threshold was
occasionally crossed, it never warranted closure. The water continued to
improve as it passed to Guerneville (remember that this is before that
community was forced into sewers through an identical phony crisis) and by
Monte Rio and Duncans Mills conditions were literally pristine.
Lo and behold, samples taken through the 1990's show pretty much the same
thing, except for an alarming decrease in water quality up at the Healdsburg
beach. Monte Rio fecal levels have never triggered a beach closure, and
generally are similar to what they were in the early 1970's. Likewise with
Guerneville and other beaches along the lower River. At the same time
Healdsburg's beach not only regularly exceeds the threshold, but in fact has
been closed to the public.
A public hazard did not create the moratorium at Monte Rio, or the one at
Guerneville back in the 70's when they were forced to sewer. It was just
the reverse. The moratorium "created" the hazard. It turns out that to
qualify for Federal USDA sewer grants a community has to have either (1)
well documented evidence of contamination, or (2) a moratorium on
construction due to a public health hazard. This is obviously a loophole
through which one can drive a sewer plant.
The property owners around Monte Rio lost millions of dollars in value
because the county said 'If we don't actually have a hazard we will just
create one'. Ironically, they did create a hazard by preventing people from
doing legitimate upgrades like fixing leaky roofs, insulating, rewiring old
wires, re-plumbing, replacing windows, etc.
The county did this before at Guerneville with exactly the same MO. Declare
a moratorium to create a crisis in order to sneak into a cushy government
grant. The engineering companies get rich, and the community gets stuck
with an expensive boondoggle. In fact, the engineers for Monte Rio, Questa
Engineers of Marin County, tried the same trick, using exactly the same
methods with Marin Environmental Health to get Bolinas to the sewers. They
fought and won and one hopes the citizenry of Monte Rio will erupt with
righteous indignation to beat them back again.
The best alternative is a septic management district that recognizes the
vast majority of existing systems as functional. The region needs to
conduct a survey to determine exactly how many systems are actually in
failure. Those few systems that are found to be non-functional can be
restored easily and cheaply, for around $2-3000. (My own compnay, SepTec,
has developed and installed a septic tank retrofit in over twenty properties
in the Sonoma, Menocino, Lake and Contra Costa counties, including one
property in Villa Grande.) Even hard to reach areas that the current sewer
proposal ignores can be served by this system. It is biologically
impossible for these systems to fail if they are kept operational. These
systems, and others currently available, offer a less expensive and more
ecologically sound approach to maintaining our river quality.
The letter attached to Trini's email has two blanks on page 6, which was an
oversight on my part. The numbers there should be $327,000 and $85. Please
be sure to fill in the gaps if you use the letter as a basis for your own
communication to the CMC or otherwise. And, please adapt the information
in this draft to your own presentation and style. If the CDC gets 40
letters that look identical, it will simply discount them all (or count them
Finally, Trini's draft attaches an article written by Dan Wickham a while
ago. If you use it, you need to refer to it in the body of the letter.
(There is no mention of that article in the draft as it stands.) Right now,
the letter refers only to an enclosure which is Sharon Callahan's recent
letter stating why she will resist the County's taking of her property. If
you need a copy of that letter, let Trini know and he can forward it to you.
M. Patricia Thayer
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I apologize for the length of this message. I have put the most important
info up front. For more information please see below.
1) MEETING TOMORROW at 9:20 AM in Santa Rosa!!
The Community Development Committee will consider the request from PRMD for
$784,000 for Monte Rio Sewer Connections. Please come and tell them this
project is not wanted by the community and to give it to projects that are
It is scheduled to begin at 9:20 am at the Community Development Commission
hearing room, 1440 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa.
2) IF YOU CANNOT MAKE IT:
PLEASE send written (USPS is preferred) comments by 5 pm on April 18 to:
Kathleen H. Kane, Community Development Manager
Sonoma County Community Development Commission
1440 Guerneville Rd., Santa Rosa, CA 95403
The Community Development Committee will make funding recommendations after
its hearings tomorrow. Their recommendations will be published for a 30-day
comment period, ending on April 18, 2003. Written comments submitted by 5
pm on April 18 will be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors along with the
Committee's recommendations for consideration at their meeting on May 6.
While you may send comments via fax or email, we would like to have the
original signed comment sent also via U.S. mail.
3) THE ISSUE:
PRMD has estimated that it will cost $4,900 per home to connect properties
to the sewer system. (This estimate represents the "private costs" only,
including construction of sewer lateral to the grinder pump, electrical or
plumbing upgrades if any are needed, building permit fees, etc. The actual
connection fee and any other "public costs" are not allowed under the CDBG
program and are not included in this figure.)
They have requested a total of $784,000 in Community Development Block Grant
(CDBG) funds to assist a total of 160 low-income home owners. Their
$784,000 request is part of the Commission's $2,534,000 request for CDBG
funding for the County's housing rehabilitation grant programs for next
If CDBG funding becomes available for this project, it will be administered
by the Community Development Commission. As required by CDBG regulations,
Commission staff will perform a third-party verification of each home
owner's actual household income to determine whether they are eligible for
4) ATTACHED - find the letter we are sending to the Community Development
Commission. Please use any of it as the basis for your letter. Here are the
It is over $11MM - started at less than $6MM.
We could have our own on-site Sewage Management District
our current systems for MUCH less money and it could serve ALL Of us!
is just one example.
The County has not proven a pollution problem. There is no evidence
beach closure due to these septic systems however there is much evidence
Guerneville plant discharge and Santa Rosa discharge coming downstream.
The County has told the Callahan/Fitzgerald family they will do this
access. Unacceptable! The cost will continue to skyrocket.
Tell this agency not to waste their money on a project that is unwanted by
Lloyd Kahn, Publisher
Shelter Publications, Inc.
P.O. Box 279
285 Dogwood Road
Bolinas, CA, 94924 USA