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Boonville Debates Modern Infrastructure

Although last Thursday night's meeting about the proposed water and septic system for downtown Boonville was advertised as "Notice of Preparation of Environmental Impact Report," the meeting had very little to do with anything "environmental."

Many of the hundred or so people filling the Fairgrounds dining room seemed to have only recently become aware of the proposed project even though it has been in the works for nearly four years, with several public meetings, many public notices and frequent articles in this newspaper.

Predictably, many of the newcomers to the subject had complaints.

Most of the speakers did not give their names, and we only recognized a few of them. Many of the complaints were related to perceptions of odor problems, the proposed location and versions of, "It's not my problem -- why do I have to pay for it?"

Redwood Drive-In proprietor, Ricardo Suarez, didn't like the proposed location of the proposed spray area on the hayfield near the airport. He thought the odor would blow into downtown Boonville over his home and business. Mr. Suarez wondered why they couldn’t find a different location downwind from his property.

Another man said that he was familiar with the Ukiah treatment plant and that it certainly smelled bad.

Project Engineers replied that only treated effluent would be sprayed and there would be minimal odor, if any, and the treatment system operator would try to avoid spraying during windy periods.

Susan Bridge-Mount of Boonville was openly skeptical of the engineers’ assertions that there would be minimal odor and that spraying would be confined to the hayfield, adding that it sounded to her like “a lot of smoke and mirrors.” Ms. Bridge-Mount also complained about the noise and traffic impacts of the estimated several dozen truck trips per year the engineers said would be required to occasionally truck treatment solids — bio-solids — elsewhere for dumping. Ms. Bridge-Mount pointedly demanded of septic system engineer Dave Coleman, “Do you live in Boonville?” 

Coleman was taken aback. 

“I thought not,” she said.

Mr. Suarez was also dubious.

Boonville resident Jeff Burroughs and a few other people didn't like the idea that they might have to pay for a system to fix water and septic problems of other downtown Boonville property owners. One of them (not Burroughs) even suggested that properties with inadequate septic systems just be ordered to fix them by the County. And if they were not fixed the systems should be red-tagged, and if still not fixed they should be taken to court and forced to abandon their residences. County Environmental Health Director Trey Strickland said he didn’t like the idea of forcing people out of their homes because of inadequate septic systems.

Strickland also addressed concerns that the water table might be affected by aging and failing septic systems. “When septic systems and leachfields fail,” said Strickland, “the waste no longer ‘percs’ downward, but floats upward and is visible on the surface of the field.” 

Although project proponent and Community Services District Chair Valerie Hanelt has said many times that the project would not proceed if construction was not covered by state grant money, the "not my problem" people didn't like the idea of paying monthly rates for a system they didn't think they needed. 

Ms. Hanelt reminded everyone that the project is just a proposal at this point and there will be several opportunities for locals and property owners to comment and vote on the project before it moves forward. There will also be opportunities to comment on the environmental impact report and the project itself at future public hearings.

A few people worried about the system spurring development in downtown Boonville. Presenters responded that state grant funders require that the system is limited to no more than 10% above current estimated capacity; any significant future development projects would have to go through the full county permit process; if they expect to use additional water or septic system hookups they would have to pay for any system upgrades themselves.

The engineers said they had evaluated over 100 local well logs as well as the regulated water systems at both schools, the Anderson Valley Health Center and Airport Estates, and identified three existing well clusters within the proposed service area as the system’s water source(s). The three well clusters are off Lambert Lane, the existing Airport Estates wells, and the area near the Health Center, Community Park adjacent to the Health Center and high school's water system at the east end of the high school campus. They also expect that the (circulating) water would be stored in large tanks on the Bradford Ranch, upslope from Boonville so that gravity would provide some of the system’s pressure.

Several people were concerned about the disruption of downtown Boonville during construction. The engineers replied that trenching and construction would probably proceed at about 100 feet per day for each system, water and septic, so that disruption at any one location would be relatively short, a week or two, as the construction moves through town.

Concerns were expressed about the impact the system would have on the water table. Engineers replied that there should be no net increase in the amount of water drawn from the aquifers beneath Boonville and therefore the water table should not be negatively affected.

Fire Chief Andres Avila said that at present neither of the local schools nor the Health Center have sufficient water to adequately fight a significant fire. The proposed system, sized to provide water for fire protection as well as residential-commercial, would solve that problem.

Ms. Hanelt pointed out that if the septic system is approved and installed using state construction funds, the state would require that everyone in the downtown Boonville service area be connected to it. The water system's potable water, however, would allow individual property owners to decline hookups.

Fifth District Supervisor-elect Ted Williams made an appearance to ask if it would be possible to include an Internet cable in the trench(es). The engineers replied that there would be scheduling and logistics problems in attempting to do that and it did not seem feasible.

Most of the more ordinary questions about the system, the process, the costs, etc. had already been assembled on wall charts based on earlier input to the Community Services District and many of them seemed derived from Joan Burroughs’ interesting letter in last week’s newspaper.)

All of the questions and comments will be addressed in the Draft Environmental Impact Report currently scheduled to be released in January. That will be followed by another review and comment period, and the Final Environmental Impact Report. Then the Community Services District board will hold a hearing to decide if they want to "certify" the environmental impact report.

If the report is certified, the engineers would then prepare a "rate letter," which will contain cost estimates for the water and sewer system’s separate construction, operation and maintenance along with estimated water and sewer rates for residences and downtown commercial establishments. Assuming the intermediate steps are approved, the "rate letter” would be available sometime in late 2019.

If both projects are approved by the Board and the service area parcel voters, it could take up to two years from beginning to completion but that would not be continuous activity since seasonal and separate project considerations would apply.

After Ms. Hanelt adjourned the meeting, Leane Sarasy and Mike Rielly, who live in the Lambert Lane area, asked to be allowed to read from a statement they had circulated in opposition to the project. As people milled out of the room, Reilly said he had obtained several signatures from neighbors in the Lambert Lane area. They complained that the proponents had not done enough "outreach" to neighboring parcel owners just outside the service area, that not enough consideration had been given to alternative locations, that the comment period should be longer, that their water table might be affected, that not enough attention had been paid to "environmental health," and alternative processing technologies, and that there would be unavoidable odor.

The full 2.5-hour meeting was videotaped and is expected to be posted on youtube in the next few days. We will publish the link to that video when it becomes available.

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Thursday evening I went to the community meeting that had been called in order to inform area residents and property owners regarding the status of planning for the proposed water and sewer systems for Boonville. The people on the Community Services District Board have been working on this proposal for four years now. They are concerned about the quality of the water in Boonville, and after doing some testing of wells in the more densely populated parts of town and finding widespread contamination there they decided to explore the possibility of bringing in water and sewer service. I have been watching this process, mostly from the sideline, although my wife Kathleen is one of the District Board members working on it. She has gone to many meetings, all noticed and open to the public, as the proposal has been evolving. 

The District Board is convinced that the money required to build a water system and a sewer system can be obtained through State and Federal grants and that it will not be necessary to borrow funds to build either system, and if they had not believed that they would not have pursued the idea. They obtained grants for planning the systems and they have brought in engineers, environmentalists and county officials to help. These folks were at the meeting Thursday to explain the current status of the proposals to the community. The meeting was in the dining hall at the Fairgrounds, and it was so well attended that there were few seats unoccupied. 

It seemed to me that some of the folks attending were there not to find out what is being proposed but to voice their disapproval of any such proposal no matter what. There were people who don’t want anything near their yard or in their sight, there were people who don’t want any change at all in Boonville, there were people who don’t live in the proposed districts or even in Anderson Valley who are against it. Some people clearly feel that contaminated wells and failing septic systems should not be a concern of the community at large. Some simply do not want to pay anything that will in any way benefit anyone but themselves, even down to the cost of operating a water system built with grant money. Others seem to feel that there is no problem because their own well is a good one and their own septic system works. Some, of course don’t want to listen to engineers because they know more than engineers. Some wanted to vote right now when there is not yet a plan to vote on. 

I was quite surprised at this, because the Anderson Valley where I have lived for nearly 46 years now has always been a place where people care about each other, a place that comes together to help when someone is ill or when some disaster strikes. Anderson Valley is a place where we know how to park parallel four deep and not to block each other in. Boonville is a place where you just might see someone running out into the street in a bathrobe to get a neighbor’s loose dog back in its yard. Anderson Valley is a Community, and Boonville is a town in our Community that clearly has a problem and I am surprised to hear anyone saying, “We Don’t Need That” or “It’s Not My Problem.” 

I think that we can do better than that. 

This thing is just a proposal now, the proposal can be changed. The folks organizing this and standing up in front of us at that meeting are describing what they are proposing. They want to hear our concerns, they want to answer our questions. They are not trying to take anything away from anyone or ram anything down anyone’s throat. There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. I would add that if you live in a village you have to figure out what to do with the poop, and that if you are real smart you will figure out how to keep it out of the water supply. Seems to me that you would want to work together on that — let’s do that and let’s keep our sense of community. 

Tom McFadden 


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