It has been a difficult budget season at the Sewer Authority Mid-Coastside. At present, we are at an impasse with our partners, Granada Community Services District and Montara Water and Sanitary District on SAM’s budget. The impasse focuses on how and when to fund design work on a pipeline serving customers of MWSD.

The city has supported, and will continue to support, a budget that allows SAM’s continued operations of the regional wastewater treatment plant and protection of the environment. We are asking our partners to join us in finding a solution to the impasse that does not disproportionally impact city customers.

On May 22, the SAM board is scheduled to discuss the budget for a third time. Montara board member and SAM Chair Katherine Slater-Carter has publicly indicated that Montara has funds available for the proposed work. Given the nature and location of the project, our request will be that Montara commit its share of project funds now and that SAM programs work for FY 2023-24 around those available funds. 

City ratepayers already bear a disproportionate share of Coastside sewage treatment costs. Recently, the city completed a major force main replacement project in Ocean Colony that conveys effluent from the southern portions of the city, including Moonridge, to the SAM plant. The city did not seek subsidy from Granada or Montara as the improvements did not benefit them. However, city ratepayers are being asked to pay 61.5 percent of the costs to design, permit, and construct new pipeline(s) to transport sewage from Montara and Granada to the SAM plant.

This is the same heavy burden that led the city to sue in 2017 to ask the court to clarify the city’s, Granada’s and Montara’s responsibilities for these mounting capital costs. We are presently awaiting a hearing and decision by the Court of Appeal in San Jose.

In the meantime, and in the spirit of collaboration and understanding that the project should move forward for our neighbors to the north, we have offered to fund 61.5 percent of these projects, but have asked Granada and Montara to formally agree (as they have previously) that should the city win the lawsuit, SAM will refund what is contributed to projects that do not serve city customers.  

The city and Granada are being asked to pay approximately 80 percent of what is expected to be a $12 million-$15 million Montara pipeline project that has yet to be fully defined and only benefits Montara ratepayers. The Montara pipeline project is one of several proposed pipeline and related replacement projects, which, in sum total, are likely to exceed $25 million over the next five to 10 years. 

In 2020, the city raised its sewer rates to cover costs to maintain its aging sewer system, to modernize the SAM sewer treatment plant to protect our beaches and oceans from sewer spills, and to ensure fiscal responsibility. The rate increase did not account for funding over 60 percent of infrastructure projects that serve Montara and Granada. Absent help from the courts, the city will have no choice but to evaluate funding options to subsidize these capital costs, which would likely mean another increase in sewer rates.  

It is only with collaboration among the partners that we can move SAM forward, productively. Thus far, the two districts have rejected the city’s simple request to “pay under protest” with the right to a refund if we win the suit. This has, in turn, stalled budget approval.

The solution to this budget impasse lies with Montara, and we urge Montara to work with SAM to identify funding they are able and obligated to provide and commit that amount now to expedite design work on the Montara Force Main.

Deborah Penrose is mayor of Half Moon Bay.

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(1) comment

Cid Young

That's an interesting spin on why the City of Half Moon Bay can't pay their share of the SAM Intertie Pipeline repairs. The latest ploy is to kick that can down the road, but as we all know, things do not get cheaper over time.

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