After the city council pushed the a vote on a $60.2 million fee to fund a new salt mitigation facility back two weeks, Mayor Roger Berg requested that the city attorney prepare a report on the possibility of the city taking over the Beaumont Cherry Valley Water District.
Frustrations were evident at Tuesday's council meeting which saw a lively discussion about how to pay for the facility, which would remove salt from recycled water as required by the State Regional Water Quality Control Board. A staff report had recommended that 64% of the total cost be funded through a salt mitigation facility fee and and the remainder of the cost would come from service charges, grants and loans, according to the staff report. The study recommends that a fee of $1,683.69 per new home or equivalent building be passed on to developers.
During the public comments, Bill Blankenship, CEO of the Riverside County Building Industry Association, urged the city to seek out alternatives to a desalter and engage in discussions with the water district.
"I'm asking the council to give us the opportunity to work with your staff and to go ask the local water district how we can do this together," said Blankenship.
Berg acknowledged that the problem with salt mitigation has to be resolved but voiced concern with developers and the city footing the bill for the facilities.
"I'm tired of the water district not doing their job, they should be taking care of this," he said. "If they're not going to do their job, maybe we have to do it for them, because I'm really concerned about this salt mitigation. I don't think it's fair upon the developers to have to pay for a lot of it."
Berg said the city, among other ideas, wanted to import clean water, but they've received no cooperation from the water district or Pass water agency.
"They should be doing their job, and we should not be the only one holding this problem here," said Berg.
Eric Fraser, general manager of the Beaumont Cherry Valley Water District, called Berg's claims "false and unsubstantiated" in a phone interview on Wednesday.
"The city's idea was to take the sewage discharge and redirect it up to the pristine part of the aquifer, and try to require rate payers to buy several thousand feet of imported water to mix with that sewage discharge and try to blend out the salts," said Fraser. "The scheme to move the discharge point up to the highest portion of the aquifer into noble creek, near Brookside Avenue, would simply create a point source of pollution that would impact the whole aquifer."
Throughout the meeting, Mayor ProTem David Castaldo expressed frustration with the lack of communication with the water district.
"Lets finally call a joint meeting with the water district and see if they show up," said Castaldo. "And lets try to make one last ditch effort to try to work out something."
City staff was asked to conduct a workshop prior to the vote at the Sept. 4 meeting. Berg wrapped up the discussion by asking City Attorney Joe Aklufi to bring back a report on the possibilities of taking over the water district.
"I intend to represent the citizens of Beaumont," said Berg. "I do not think they're being represented by the water district and if it takes the City of Beaumont to take them over and that's what we need to do, then that's what we'll do. We have ability to do something."
Fraser pointed to other cities who have taken over
"Their desire to take over the water district is to try and facilitate some of those grandiose schemes that would have severe rate impacts to the rate payer," he said. "Also, their desire to take over the water district is coupled with a desire to make the water district a source of funds for the city. If you look at the cities of Rialto or Colton, where they have escalated water rates to facilitate transfers to the cities general fund, the rate payer ends up paying inflated rates for the services they receive. As a special district we only do one thing, we provide water to the rate payers and we do that at a cost that's commensurate with the cost to provide service."
Both the city and the water district agree that a solution needs to be hashed out, or fines will be coming down from the State Regional Water Quality Control Board.
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