Arcata Wastewater Treatment plant – that
part of the world-famous Arcata Marsh that theoretically makes the
city’s sewage and wastewater nontoxic enough to pump into nearby
wetlands – is in a bad way. Parts of it are failing. It uses potentially nasty chlorine to disinfect the sludge, and what happens if that spills? The city’s
been dinged several times for discharging stuff into the bay that it
should not be discharging. Also: The seas around it are rising.
It’s going to take about $60 million to bring the Wastewater Treatment Plant up to snuff — “by far the largest capital project the city has ever done,” according to Mark Andre, the city’s director of environmental services — and that money’s going to have to come from somewhere.
To that end: At its next meeting — which happens today, July 1, at 6 p.m. — the Arcata City Council will open a public hearing on new water and sewer rate schedules that could start to kick in a few months from now. If eventually approved, average sewage rates could go up around 50 percent over the next five years, and water rates by about a third. (See this staff report for a rundown.)
Whatever the need, though, these new rate schedules are not universally beloved. Numerous citizens have already written in to object to the rate hike on several grounds, many of them related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first place, they say, the pandemic has already decimated their business’ budget, or their households’, so is this really the time to weigh down the citizenry with extra expense? Also: Would it not be more appropriate to wait until we can hash this out in person, rather than over City Council videoconference?
“We have no choice but to protest ALL water and sewer rate increases at this time,” write Amy and Steve Bohner, owners of Alchemy Distillery and Alchemy Construction in a typical letter. “Perhaps you can table this until our economy recovers a bit? As we write this we are in a ‘shelter in place,’ after all.”
Read the staff report, which outlines the potential rate increases, at this link. Read all the letters of protest about these increases at this link. Read, if you like, the problems with the Wastewater Treatment Plant and their proposed solutions in excruciating, 768-page detail at this link. It should be noted that the rate increases, if passed, will also go to upgrading the water system some too, but nothing on the scale of the work that’s needed at the Marsh.
Later on — assuming they take these items in the order listed on the agenda — the council will see if the city can get in on some new CARES Act-derived, pandemic-targeted block grants the State of California will be giving out in the coming months. The state has $18.7 million to award to local jurisdictions, according to the staff report for this item, and the city could get up to $147,657 to help fund up to three items on its to-do list.
These block grants are meant to target public services, healthcare capacity, homelessness and/or businesses assistance, according to the state’s call for applications. Staff has developed a list of seven possible items that the city council can choose among in devising a grant. Among the choices: Extending water and sewer services to an Arcata House Partnership facility on Boyd Road, financing additional short-term rental assistance for residents on the verge of losing their places, providing childcare vouchers to low- to medium-income residents, obtaining PPE and coronavirus signage for reopening businesses, and helping local families adjust to distance learning by purchasing equipment.
City staff is recommending that the Council choose the first option: Getting the Boyd Road shelter — that’s off Highway 299 — hooked up to the city’s sewer and water systems. Staff says:
This project will allow the installation of the State funded trailers on that site and assist in housing homeless individuals currently at high-risk of contracting COVID19. The City has been working with the County and Arcata House Partnership to move from temporary camp locations to more stable housing and this project would allow for additional capacity at the Boyd Road shelter.
Among other things, the council will vote to extend its declaration of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and also looks set to send a letter of appreciation to Dr. Teresa Frankovich, Humboldt County’s public health officer, for her leadership through these past few months.
The council will set about drafting its ballot arguments in favor of the two measures it will place before voters in November — a tax to support parks and recreation, and an authorization to spend more funds on developing affordable housing. (See here.)
All that and … at least some more. You can find the full meeting agenda at this link.
The Arcata City Council meets at 6 p.m. tonight. Want to watch this meeting? If you have cable you can tune into Access Humboldt Channel 10. Otherwise, you can view it on the city’s web page or its YouTube channel.
Want to participate? The city gives you these instructions:
Members of the public may provide public comment before and during the meeting by sending comments to the Clerk by email at email@example.com. Such email comments must identify the agenda item number in the subject line of the email. The comments will be read into the record, with a maximum allowance of three minutes (approximately 500 words) per individual comment, subject to the Mayor’s discretion. If a comment is received after the agenda item is heard, but before the close of the meeting, the comment will still be included as a part of the written record of the meeting but will not be read into the record during the meeting.