Costs mount while wastewater facility stays in limbo

Costs mount while wastewater facility stays in limboBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Ridgecrest City Council heard an updated report on a proposed new wastewater treatment facility last week during its regular meeting. According to presenter Terry Schroepfer from Provost & Pritchard Consulting Group, the city needs to make a determination on whether it wants the facility next to the existing plant on Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake property or wants to move the project off base.

But time is money, as they say, and as the city remains at the crossroads, the multimillion-dollar project becomes more expensive.

Since 2015 the estimated cost for the project has increased from $44 million to $50.6 million for the base site and from $50 million to $57.5 million for the city site.

Schroepfer said that the base site is a more favorable location from a technical standpoint, but that both sites have benefits.

“It’s the most feasible technically, it’s the lowest-cost site, it’s got a lot of things going for it in terms of topography and isolation and things like that,” he said. “But again, going back to these not-technical, nonmonetary factors, there could be reasons not to select that site.”

He continued that the base site was contingent on a long-term agreement between the city and the Navy for the use of the easement on the other side of the fence. This somewhat hampers access to the site, but it also makes securing financing for the project more complicated.

The base site is also at slightly lower elevation than the proposed city site and can intercept wastewater flow without needing to build additional lift stations – something that would be required for the city site.

Some of the funding will come from sewer rate increases in recent years. The city is also applying for state loans, and Schroepfer encouraged including water recycling aspects in the facility plans in order to qualify for loans.

Schroepfer said that a Clean Water State Revolving Fund loan would be the best way to finance the project. The loan would cover 100 percent of the cost with 2.26- percent interest (compared to 3.3 to 4.35 percent for other options).

“It’s the best route, but you have to get in line and wait for the money,” said Schroepfer. “If you’re in a real big hurry, it may not work out. But if you’re willing to be patient it can pay off.”

But for a CWSRF loan, the city also needs to commit to a site for the project. And if the base site is selected, they city must confirm access to the easement for the duration of the loan plus 10 years.

City Manager Dennis Speer said Ridgecrest is still trying to work with Navy Region Southwest to negotiate the prolonged use of the base easement.

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Mower asked if there was any indication on whether the two parties would be able to come to an agreement. Speer said the ball is in the Navy’s court.

Mower also reminded the public that China Lake had been very accommodating during the process, and that negotiations are being held up by Navy Region Southwest.

“We’re at a decision point right now,” said Schroepfer. “We can’t make a lot of progress until you have either concluded negotiations with the Navy or you elect to use the city site.”

“We need to get moving ahead,” said Stan Rajtora during public comment. “Right now we’re just wasting money.”

Rajtora – who addresses the council often on wastewater matters – also expressed concern that the Navy wasn’t paying proportionally for its use of the current treatment plant.

“Even though they’ve increased the amount they’re paying, they’re still only paying about a third of what their share of the revenue should be,” he said. “That needs to be corrected. I see a lot of benefit of working with the Navy, but only if they pay their share.”

He said that if the Navy is not going to pay its proportional share, the city should go off base with its facility.

Speer confirmed that while the Navy pays as much as it is contractually obliged to pay, it is not proportional to use. According to Speer, the Navy is still adhering to a 1968 agreement with the city.

The presentation was not an action item and council did not make any decisions on how to move forward with the project.

“How does one make a determination of where to go without knowing how you are going to get there?” Mayor Peggy Breeden asked.

“It doesn’t make any sense to develop a plan without having a site determined. It seems to me that what we are trying to do is find the best of both possible worlds, without having any agreements to do either.”

NAWS China Lake Comman-ding Officer Capt. Paul Dale, who was present during the meeting, briefly commented on the topic.

“I’ll make a phone call to Rear Adm. [Yancy] Lindsey tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll make sure he has visibility on it and understands the urgency.”

Pictured: Terry Schroepfer, wastewater consultant

Story First Published: 2017-04-14