GSD hires new manager, faces new costs for water plant project

Directors of the Garberville Sanitary District announced that they have hired a new general manager, awarded the contract for the engineering of the Alderpoint tank replacement, and reviewed progress on GSD's three key projects at their monthly board meeting last Tuesday, March 25.

Ralph Emerson, who officially comes on board as general manager on June 1, has had 20 years' experience as a water and wastewater operator and as district manager for the Murphys Sanitary District in Murphys, a town with a population of 2,200 in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Emerson also served on the board of directors of the California Special Districts Association and on other public boards, including the school board in Murphys. He is married with two grown children and enjoys hiking and motorcycle racing.

Although he will not officially become general manager until June 1, Emerson is already working on GSD projects from his home in Murphys. He will drive to Garberville to attend all the board meetings in person, GSD office manager Tina Stillwell told the Redwood Times.

GSD's newest board member, firefighter and co-owner of the Woodrose Cafe Doug Bryan, was also sworn in last Tuesday evening and immediately took his seat at the board table.

In general the drinking water treatment plant project is going well, capital projects manager Jennie Short reported. Piping between backwash filters and exterior process piping have been completed. Lighting and electrical service were installed in the operations building.

Furthermore, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), which is funding the project with a $3.2 million grant-loan package, has finally begun making payments to reimburse the first $1.2 million of GSD's costs and has approved further payments, which will be issued in April and May.

Part of this money is going to pay back GSD's bridge loan from the Redwood Community Action Agency, and the rest is used to pay the contractor's invoices. The bridge loan is a revolving loan, so as part of it is paid off, more becomes available to pay the contractor if payments from CDPH lag behind.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that heavy rain in February and early March triggered a mudslide between the operations building and the backwash tank at the new plant. The slide occurred on the cut bank just above the plant.

SHN Engineering, GSD's design and engineering consultants for the project, are looking at temporary repairs, including a catch basin and piping to draw water on the hill into rocked ditches and covering the slide area with black plastic during storms. The design for a more permanent fix will be done when the ground dries out and SHN can evaluate the situation, Short told the board.

Furthermore, some unexpected problems will lead to an increase in the cost of the project.

Because of a miscommunication between SHN and SHN's electrical engineer subconsultant, the pump motor starters at the backwash tank were found incapable of meeting the required output of the water that is recycled when the filters are backwashed.

The cost for replacing the motor starters, including factory testing, delivery to the site, installation, and onsite testing, will come to a little over $23,000. It also bumps the completion date 90 days, from May 31 to Aug. 31 of this year.

Secondly, when GSD acquired the Garberville Water Company from the Hurlbutt family, the district was required to move the tank outlet waterline that currently runs under the residence to a nearby easement within 10 years.

That agreement was made in 2004, so the clock is running out.

When the contractors began digging to uncover the pipe, they discovered a number of problems that will require additional work, including burying the line 10 or 11 feet deep, as well as installing a more complicated piping system.

While negotiations are not complete, the estimated cost of the changes is currently a little more than $49,000.

Fortunately both these changes can be covered by CDPH funding, although this brings the total close to emptying the project's contingency fund.

On Short's advice, the board quickly voted to approve the changes and authorize chair Rio Anderson to negotiate. They also voted to extend Anderson's authority to sign contract change orders without separate board approval from $25,000 to $50,000 for the larger change order only.

Moving on to the Alderpoint water tank replacement, Short reported that the district received three bids on the engineering phase of the estimated $500,000 project.

LACO Engineering of Eureka was the lowest bidder at $51,277, with the second and third bids coming in at $63,533 and $72,970.

The five-person selection committee, which included Emerson, recommended that the board award the bid to LACO, who were not only the lowest bidder, but the only one whose bid was under the budgeted amount of $60,000 for the surveying, design, and engineering phase of the project.

After hearing both LACO and the second bidder present their credentials, the board voted unanimously to award the bid to LACO.

Short said she plans to work with Emerson during the next three months so that he will be ready to take over management of these two projects in June. This will allow her to focus on the remaining project, to extend district boundaries and annex all properties currently served by GSD outside the legal boundary.

GSD filed environmental documents for the annexation last September and received amended water rights from the State Water Resources Control Board to include the proposed annexation areas in its "place of use."

The two steps remaining are to receive approval from the Humboldt Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), which has jurisdiction over boundary changes within the county, and to submit documentation to the State Board of Equalization, which will revise Tax Rate Area maps for the new district.

Everyone living within a specific Tax Rate Area is eligible to run for a seat on the district board, greatly expanding the pool of potential directors.

Short said she would not apply for these changes until the annexation is approved by LAFCo.

Office manager Tina Stillwell is preparing the official application for annexation, which should be presented to the GSD board at its April meeting, and then submitted to LAFCo.

LAFCo meets every other month, so Short plans to attend their May meeting to answer the commission's questions and prepare for the official public hearing for approval in July.

Once LAFCo approves the annexation, the law requires a protest period during which property owners in the annexed parcels can submit written protests. If the protests fall below a certain percentage, final approval is automatic.

When Emerson is ready to take over the construction projects and the annexation issue is settled, "... then my involvement [with GSD] will be done," Short said.

Finally, under new business, the board discussed Stillwell's suggestion that GSD purchase its own certified drinking water tank truck so it could respond to emergency requests for bulk water during what is expected to be an extremely dry summer and fall.

While state law prevents GSD from routinely selling drinking water that will be used outside its legal place of use, the district can provide water in emergencies to persons who apply and are approved. The water can be delivered in any certified potable water tanker or users can haul it away in their own conveyances.

Stillwell has talked to someone who wants to apply for emergency water. Although the district can charge for the water, "It's not much revenue," Emerson said. "It's a matter of service to the public."

But GSD has to consider its own ratepayers first, Emerson added. When water is in short supply, its first obligation is to district residents and businesses.

In addition to the expense of purchase, the truck will require a lot of maintenance, he said, and the district will need to obtain additional liability insurance.

Finally the board decided not to pursue purchase of the truck, but agreed they would serve water to any applicant with a water emergency who has a means of taking away the water.

This completed the board's business, so the meeting was adjourned. The next meeting is scheduled for Tues., April 22, beginning at 5 p.m. in the district office at the south end of Garberville near Ray's Food Place.

For more information, see GSD's website,, or call the office during business hours at 923-9566.


1. Triggered by spring rains, mud slid down the cut bank behind GSD's new drinking water treatment plant, currently under construction, fortunately without causing serious damage to the new backwash tank and operations building.

2. The view at the top of the mudslide that occurred in late March at the GSD drinking water treatment plant site. The mud stopped short of the newly installed backwash tank (upper right) and operations building.