Garberville Sanitary District received unanimous approval of its General Plan conformance review from the Humboldt County Planning Commission at the commission’s meeting last Thursday, June 7.
California law required the commission to review GSD’s plans to acquire property and upgrade their drinking water system to be sure these plans are in conformance with the current Framework General Plan.
Components reviewed included not only the proposed new surface water treatment plant and water storage tank, but also upgrades to the raw water intake, the Oak Street booster station, and distribution mains.
Two members of the public criticized the project and urged the commission not to approve the conformance review. Jennie Short, GSD’s capital projects coordinator, responded to the issues raised and the commissioners’ questions.
Staff findings, presented by Humboldt County senior planner Michael Wheeler, stated that the "acquisition of a 1.3 acre easement granted by River Ranch for the surface water treatment plant... and acquisition of an easement for the one-million gallon water storage tank [on the Johnson-Hurlbutt property]... are consistent with the goals, policies, and standards and objectives of the General Plan and the Garberville-Redway-Benbow-Alderpoint Community plan...
"Staff believes that, upon acquisition of the easements in perpetuity, steps should be taken by the applicant to amend the land use designation to reflect ‘Public Facility’ uses," the report concluded.
The current land use designation for the River Ranch property is AL20, Agricultural Rural with 20-acre minimum parcels. The current designation of the Johnson-Hurlbutt property is T, for Timber.
Ed Voice, who owns property in the Rivercrest subdivision just outside Garberville and close to the treatment plant site, made several objections to the project, stating that the land acquisition, which was done by permanent easements on both sites, has not been properly examined.
Commissioner Denver Nelson asked, "What do you want? Are you saying you don’t want the treatment plant?"
"I understand the need for improvements," Voice replied, but he added that GSD needs to address the impact of potential additional development that could be enabled by the project. He pointed out that the owners of the subject properties are developers and GSD is giving them service connections in exchange for the easements.
Don "Frenchy" Courtemanche echoed Voice’s statements, saying that he lives on Sprowel Creek Road 100 feet from the river, which he can see out of his window, and that he also is concerned with impacts of potential development on the river.
"GSD has neglected their fiduciary responsibilities," Courtemanche said. He felt that the district has not adequately addressed environmental impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act, as in addition to the new treatment plant and other improvements, GSD is also seeking to annex 1,000 acres of land outside its current boundaries.
Short denied that the new service connections would induce growth. The agreement with the River Ranch property owner gives them only three 3/4-inch water connections, which is negligible in a district of Garberville’s size, she said.
The project was designed based on historical use by GSD and its predecessor, the privately-owned Garberville Water Company, and the increase in capacity and storage is meant to provide redundancy, Short continued.
Increasing the treatment plant’s ability to produce water will enable the district to produce most of the water it needs during off-peak hours when electric rates are lower.
During a big storm when extreme turbidity in the water stresses the treatment system, GSD can shut the plant down entirely and still have enough water stored in the new 1 million gallon tank for three to four days’ use by its customer, Short explained.
Commissioner Ralph Faust asked Wheeler how the commission can be assured that the improvements are not growth-inducing. Wheeler replied that staff could include provisions to prohibit additional connections if the commission requested it.
Interim planning director Martha Spencer added that her department’s concerns about potential impacts of new connections to the River Ranch properties had been satisfied by the GSD board of directors’ resolution that the three connections were meant for only three new residences and would not have significant environmental impacts.
Short said that the Humboldt Local Agency Formation Commission was closely examining their proposed annexation and would have the final say over what could be included within district boundaries. The annexation is meant only to bring existing water services inherited from the Garberville Water Company into LAFCo compliance.
Finally, commissioner Mel Kreb, who represents the 2nd District, asked how long Garberville’s water treatment plant has been out of compliance with regulations of the California Department of Public Health.
Since before GSD bought the water company, Short replied, and she estimated that non-compliance had most likely dated back to the early 2000s. GSD purchased the company and activated its latent power to serve water under LAFCo law at the time in 2004, she said.
With that, commissioner Dave Edmonds moved approval of the conformance review, Kreb seconded the motion, and the commission voted "yes" unanimously.