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Chloride rate hike moves ahead

Posted: July 1, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 1, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Mayor Laurene Weste and Councilman Bob Kellar, who are on the district board, listen to public comment during the hearing. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.

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The Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District introduced an ordinance Monday night to raise sewage rates so it can build a salt-removal treatment plant for the valley’s wastewater.

Under the plan given a nod Monday night, property owners who are hooked up to the district’s sewer system will see the hike on property tax bills phased in during the next six years. After that time, the rate increase would be about $100 per year for the average single-family home, district officials say.

A final vote on the rate increase will be held July 7.

The increased revenue would be used to build a treatment system to employ micro-filtration, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet light disinfection and brine injection to reduce chloride — a naturally occurring component of table salt — from treated water that is released into the river and used by farmers downstream to irrigate their crops.

The unanimous vote by two of the three Sanitation District officials followed a public hearing at which the business community largely lined up behind the rate increase and treatment system, but some individuals raised opposition points that have been discussed for years.

“There isn’t, and there never has been, damage to crops downstream,” said TimBen Boydston, a member of the Santa Clarita City Council who said he was speaking as a ratepayer Monday night.

Farming interests in Ventura County say the salt component damages their avocado crops, and a water quality enforcement agency has imposed a 100-milligrams-per-liter limit on chloride in water released into the river.

“It is not about the chloride,” Boydston said, challenging the scientific studies done to determine chloride’s effect on Ventura County crops. “This boils down to a failure in leadership.”

“Instead of bringing the cost down, we need to bring the limits up,” Flo Lawrence, a member of the Castaic Area Town Council, said of the imposed chloride limit. “This is fabricated — nothing’s wrong with their crops.”

Nancy Lulejian Starczyk speaking for the Chamber of Commerce, Chris Chapleau speaking for the Valley Industry Association, and Holly Schroeder, president and CEO of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corp., all supported the rate increase but said the Sanitation District must continue its efforts to reduce the cost of the planned chloride-removal system.

“We do not wish the valley to be subject to ongoing fines,” Starczyk said, calling on the district to work with other water interests on a “long-term water sustainability plan.”

The district’s Board of Directors voted 2-0 Monday night to introduce an ordinance authorizing the rate increase. The final vote on the matter will be held during a meeting July 7 at Santa Clarita City Hall.

The district’s board is made up of two Santa Clarita City Council members and a county supervisor. The supervisor was not present for Monday night’s public hearing and vote.

Property owners could protest the rate increase by filling out a form or writing a letter with their opposition, parcel number and signature included.

Nearly 70,000 notices to property owners were sent out, as required under Proposition 218, district officials said. If more than 50 percent of landowners protested the rate increase, the board could not have moved forward with it.

But just 52 protests representing 57 parcels were received, district spokesman Basil Hewitt said after the public hearing was closed Monday night.

District officials have said the rate increase would funda $130 million treatment system to remove chloride from Santa Clarita Valley wastewater.

But on Monday John H. Gulledge, head of the Financial Management Department for the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, said that cost was in 2012 dollars and the actual cost for the treatment plant will be closer to $205 million including financing.

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