Orange County effluent needs a new home.
But homeowners in a Fountain Valley neighborhood aren't happy with plans by the Orange County Sanitation District to replace a critical sewage pump station, even after being promised that it would be camouflaged to look like just another house.
About 200 residents mobbed a meeting held last week to discuss the $33.8-million project, which hasn't yet undergone a required environmental review. About 100 residents showed up two nights later at a regular district board meeting.
Their message: Build the pump station somewhere else -- either in an industrial area or within the district's plant in Fountain Valley.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 03, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Fountain Valley map -- A map in the California section of the Orange County Edition on Monday accompanying a story about a proposed sewage pumping station in Fountain Valley mislabeled the San Diego (405) Freeway as the Santa Ana (5) Freeway.
Residents became particularly upset when officials suggested that the district could condemn property, specifically two homes on the corner of Ellis Avenue and Bushard Street that engineers declared the best location. That alternative was scuttled, however, after several homeowners and board members blasted the idea of invoking the agency's power of eminent domain to seize property.
"I don't believe that if there are any other alternatives [that] this board would ever condemn any property, especially someone's homes," said John Collins, district director and a Fountain Valley councilman. "I think there are plenty of alternatives."
Board Chairwoman Shirley McCracken of Anaheim said residents were overreacting to a hypothetical threat after two homeowners complained that a neighbor had been approached by a district representative about selling her home.
"I don't think this board would take any property," she said.
District engineers hoped to reassure residents by releasing renderings of the new station, which would replace one built in 1952 under the intersection of Ellis Avenue and Bushard Street. They showed either a one- or two-story building identical to adjacent ranch-style homes, but filled with computer circuitry, pump regulators and air-conditioning units to support pumps and pipes 40 feet underground.
Because the effluent would be underground, the facility will emit no odor, engineers say.
The project would increase the pump station's capacity from 10 million gallons to 50 million gallons a day. The district handles sewage for 2.3 million of the county's 3 million residents.
The district's engineering manager, Jim Herbert, said residents were told of the condemnation option because it remains a possibility -- however remote.
"From an engineering standpoint, it was a really good site, if we'd had willing sellers," he said. "We will take a look at other sites. But the farther away you get [from the existing pump station], you lose operational flexibility and you increase cost."
The pump station should be built near the old one, he said, because effluent flows through pipes to the area, a low spot in the county's sewage system. The sewage is then pumped through a sealed pipe to move it back uphill to the Fountain Valley treatment plant.
Officials hoped that one or more homeowners in the neighborhood would agree to sell their homes to accommodate the station. But residents said the 18 months of construction would bedevil the neighborhood with truck traffic, noise, dust and the constant pounding of trench-digging equipment.
"Put it on your own property," Fountain Valley Councilman Gus Ayer said. "The government here is going to support its residents."
Homeowner Jim Righeimer said he understood the need for the project, but that didn't make it more appealing. His house sits just behind the second site identified by district officials.
That site is on the old Callens Ranch, on a portion that is leased for farming.
"We have full-on drawings that show it would look like our house," Righeimer said. "I just think that if they move it to an industrial area down Ellis, that would be better. It wouldn't back up to any houses."
Residents are worried about property values during construction and the possibility that groundwater pumped during construction from the shallow water table could leave homes vulnerable to soil slippage.
Public comments on the project are being accepted through Sept. 22, when the district will begin a full environmental review.