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County backs out of pumping station responsibilities

POSTED August 11, 2009 11:09 p.m.
The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to terminate a joint powers authority to maintain Gomes Lake on Tuesday morning, despite the pleas of local reclamation district presidents.
More than 10,000 acres of land within local Reclamation Districts are protected from flooding by the Gomes Lake pumping station and associated infrastructure.
“What (County Public Works Director) Matt Machado wants is an easy way out, and there is no easy way out in this case,” said Joe Sallaberry, President of Reclamation 2063. “If we have a flood and we don’t have the county’s help we are in big trouble.”
In the 1950s and 1960s levees were constructed along the San Joaquin River to provide flood protection to parcels near the river. The levees affected natural drainage, blocking flows of storm water and irrigation tail water and causing less routine but potentially more devastating flooding.
The Gomes Lake facility works to prevent that flooding by pumping backed up water through the levees and into the San Joaquin River.
“If we don’t have the money to take care of those pumps, what is going to happen?” Sallaberry said. “How many miles, how many houses are going to be underwater?”
As originally drafted in 1972, The JPA that maintains Gomes Lake included the Turlock Irrigation District, a 41 percent stakeholder; the City of Turlock, responsible for 30 percent; Stanislaus County at 19 percent; and Reclamation Districts 2063 and 2091 at 8 and 2 percents, respectively.
In 2001, county public works proposed and drafted a revised JPA in which they took a leadership role, assuming 45 percent of costs. The City of Turlock paid 35 percent, TID 20 percent, and both Reclamation Districts paid nothing.
The State of California, which owns the facility, pays nothing to maintain it.
“It’s obvious that the percentage split is completely unfair to the county,” said Supervisor Bill O’Brien. “But it sounds to me (like) there’s another reason to terminate this JPA, to get the state to the table.”
The JPA spent $404,000 between 2005 and 2007, on once per decade pump maintenance costs for Gomes Lake. The County’s share was $181,897.
A touch more maintenance is still required, including chopping down some brush on a nearby levee, but annual operating expenses alone have traditionally ranged from $14,000 to $35,000, with the county’s share varying from $6,000 to $16,000.
The JPA will continue to exist for 12 months following the Board of Supervisors’ decision to terminate the Gomes Lake JPA. The involved parties are expected to begin negotiations immediately on a new JPA.
The County believes that, should an Area of Benefit Study be conducted as part of the negotiations, the Reclamation Districts would foot a greater proportion of the bill. The Reclamation Districts, however, say they cannot afford to fund the Gomes Lake facility in addition to their other pumping operations.
If the Reclamation Districts do not agree to a new JPA the State, which owns the facility, could apply direct land assessments on properties receiving benefits.
“We need to get to a point where the payment is more equitable,” Supervisor Jeff Grover said. “I’m sure no one wants to pay more than what they are, but that’s not a reality in the world we live in.”

In other news from Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the board unanimously approved an agreement that will see Turlock Scavenger gain 6,200 customers in unincorporated areas of the county. Scavenger currently serves about 18,000 homes and businesses in Turlock.
Turlock Scavenger was the lowest bidder for the county routes, besting Gilton Solid Waste. Clients should see bills decrease approximately 10 percent for their basic garbage and curbside recycling beginning Nov. 1.
Turlock Scavenger is expected to earn approximately $7 million over the first 31.8 months of the contract, which could last as long as 10 years.
Turlock Scavenger delivered an optional, greener proposal to the Board of Supervisors that would have made use of a wet waste and dry waste bin, each of which would be collected weekly and taken to sorting facilities where as much as 85 percent of waste would be diverted from landfills. The Board elected to pass on this proposal as it would have raised costs by approximately 8 percent over what customers are now paying.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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