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Funds Blocked but Avalon Sure of Sewage Plant

November 23, 1986|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

Despite President Reagan's veto recently of a $20-billion bill that has left the Santa Catalina Island city of Avalon without assured financing for expansion of its overloaded sewage treatment plant, officials say they are moving ahead with plans for its $1.5 million renovation.

"One way or another, we will get the money," vowed Mayor Hugh T. (Bud) Smith.

"The President's veto makes it more difficult but not impossible," said City Manager John Longley. "I'm positive that by . . . June we will get a grant offer. We can't just throw our hands up and panic. We will see this thing through."

The city is under a June 1, 1988, deadline imposed by the state Water Quality Control Board to enlarge its aging 500,000-gallon-a-day sewer plant because the flow has been as high as 800,000 gallons, particularly during the summer tourist season. The city faces stiff fines if it does not meet the deadline.

Improperly Treated

Raw sewage has seeped onto the beach and streets, and other times the effluent flow has been so fast that it was not being properly treated before discharge into the ocean.

Longley said that despite not having the money in hand, Avalon will go ahead with engineering design for the new plant but will miss a Dec. 31 deadline from the water quality board to complete the engineering. However, he said he expects to meet the 1988 deadline to have the expanded plant on line.

Longley said the city will raise about $500,000 with bonds and said he is confident that the balance can eventually be raised from state and federal grants. He will meet with state Water Control Board officials in Sacramento this week to discuss other potential financing sources.

Sandra Salazar, a spokeswoman for the state board, said Avalon may qualify for money from an existing $87-million federal Environmental Protection Agency fund for construction of sewage treatment plants or from state bonds approved by voters in 1984 to assist communities of 5,000 or fewer people in construction of treatment plants.

Act Could Be Passed

There is a strong chance that the money still can come from the federal Clean Water Act of 1986 that Reagan vetoed, said Avalon's Washington lobbyist. Lobbyist Cliff Madison said that because both houses of Congress last month unanimously passed the bill designed to clean the nation's lakes and rivers, he expects the Democrat-controlled Congress to reintroduce the measure and override any new veto.

Madison said there is no question in his mind that the bill will eventually be passed.

"As far as I'm concerned, the veto does not kill the funding, it just means a delay," he said.

Newly elected Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), the former Simi Valley mayor who this month won the seat vacated by Rep. Bobbi Fiedler (R-Northridge), said he has not reviewed the bill but probably would support it.

"On the surface, it is something that I would lean toward supporting, but it's premature to say that I would definitely do so," he said.

Longley said that although the city would join in pressuring for passage of the bill by Congress, "that's not our main game plan now."

Andrew Gram, a consulting engineer, said the sewage problem developed because effluent increased dramatically, largely because of tourism. He said that from 1980 to 1984, the permanent population grew from about 2,000 to about 2,200 while the average daily sewage flow increased to nearly 500,000 gallons from 374,000.

But during the summer, when the population swells to nearly 6,000 because of visitors, Gram said the daily flow has reached 800,000 gallons. Gram said that with additional development of all kinds, the city could experience daily average flows of more than 900,000 gallons and peak days of more than 1 million gallons by the year 2000.

Worsened by Salt Water

Avalon's sewage problems are further complicated because there is a shortage of fresh water and ocean water is used for flushing. Gramm said the salt intensifies corrosion of metal fixtures and equipment, aggravates problems with the buildup of hydrogen sulfide (which has a rotten-egg smell) and reduces the efficiency of oxygen flow in the aeration process of the treatment.

The city has implemented temporary measures to meet state minimum treatment requirements, including $100,000 in improvements to a sewer lift line that pumps the sewage up into the treatment plant.

The city had applied for a waiver from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to exempt it from secondary treatment of sewage before dumping it into the ocean, believing that eliminating the secondary treatment would reduce costs.

However, city officials withdrew their waiver application recently when told by the state that a grant could not be processed until the city decided whether its sewage treatment would be secondary or primary. If the city waited until the EPA made a decision on its waiver, Longley said, the city would not meet its June, 1988, deadline.

In addition, the city recently discovered that because of strict monitoring requirements attached to the waiver, going with primary treatment would be as expensive as building the secondary treatment plant.

"There was little difference in maintenance cost," Longley said. "The EPA said it would not create a cost-benefit incentive in giving waivers."

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