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Something’s Stuck In the South Coast Sewer (Part 1)

Gualala Community Services District (GCSD) is a special sewer district located in the southern section of Mendocino County. GCSD's goal is to protect public health and the environment by providing a safe and effective wastewater collection system, treatment, and water reclamation.

In 1986 the State Water Resources Control Board and the County of Mendocino approved the formation of the Gualala Community Services District (GCSD). In 1993 The GCSD Wastewater Treatment Facility was completed. GCSD receives its wastewater from the town of Gualala and the North portion of Sea Ranch. The treated wastewater is used for irrigation on the Sea Ranch Golf Links. Because the water is used for irrigation it must be treated to the highest possible standards. GCSD treats and disinfects its wastewater to a tertiary level. This level of treatment ensures public safety and meets all required standards set forth by the State Water Resources Control Board. 

The collection system here in Gualala is not a traditional collection system. Each resident has a septic tank, but there are no leech lines. Instead of having a leech field the effluent side of the septic tank is equipped with a pump that pumps the gray water from the septic tank to the collection systems main lines. From there the water travels through various lift stations and eventually travels to the Wastewater Treatment Plant where the water is treated to a tertiary standard, which meets Title 22 requirements. The water is then used as irrigation on the Sea Ranch Golf Links.

But it has not performed to expectations. Leadership of Gualala Community Services District (GCSD), through its Board of Directors, several wastewater district managers and staff have in the past thwarted an optimal operational system that until only recently has been the order of the day.

My experience and observations of this Wastewater Reclamation District began back around 2003. There was an entrepreneurial promoter in Gualala who decided as one of his community goals, would be to challenge the GCSD political scheme. Many locals have forgotten over time what Marshall Sayegh tried to do in attempting to cause the GCSD board to be a legally operating District of the people located within the GCSD boundaries.

In a community GCSD board meeting held in the Sundstrom mall conducted by Board Chair, Ted Adshade, Mr. Sayegh protested the meeting within Brown Act requisites as the meeting was in an upstairs loft without handicap access. The meeting was well attended by the District’s constituents. Board chair Adshade began the meeting with a gesture of transparency by turning on a tape recorder, the old-style kind with a tape that could be turned over for further recording following completion of the first side.

Throughout the meeting, Mr. Sayegh protested the handicap card accessibility issue and was ignored throughout the meeting. The GCSD agenda was to address the issue of expansion through zones 3 and 4 of a 4-zone operational area.

There was some kind of straw poll survey mailed out by GCSD and constructed by Adshade and District Manager, Greg Girard which brought about all sorts of protests from the folks to be affected by this expansion: “I just spent $80,000 installing a new septic system and now you want me to pay $20-30,000 to hook up to your sewer? Are you kidding?”  One of the attendees stated, “if you come on my land, watch out for buckshot.” At the end of 30 minutes of discussion, the tape recorder made a snapping noise at which time Mr. Adshade removed the tape and turned it over to the fresh side. When that tape side was done the tape popped out of the recorder and Adshade said “Meeting adjourned, there’s a Warrior’s game on tonight.” To which a Robert Juengling (a major proponent of the district’s formation in the first place) inquired “you haven’t addressed the comments at this meeting; can’t you extend the meeting a bit further?” He was ignored, while Adshade picked up and left.

The whole affair of the mailed-out survey conducted by Adshade and Girard was not done with public input or transparency and was poorly constructed and appeared to be a “shove down the throats” possibility of the populace of a poorly represented folks within the District who were still on septic systems. 

The Independent Coast Observer attempted to cover the situation, but due to poorly communicated and conflicting informational efforts by The District Board and its general manager, coupled along with really non-understandable reporting by Julie Verran of The Independent Coast Observer, the outrage continued.

The survey was reportedly sent to all constituents within Zones 3 and 4. And if memory serves me right it consisted of a couple of questions related to the buy in of such an improvement for “say $20,000 or $30,000”, without any actual reference to septic system failures, nor public mention of a feasibility study of the area by Winsler and Kelly; a study that lacked crucial data over the public health need due to septic system failures in Zones 3 and 4; rather the report addressed real septic system failure data of the downtown area which in reality had been corrected with the formation of the District and the subsequent construction of a sewer collection and wastewater treatment facility located just across the Gualala River in Sonoma County.

The other complaint by Mr. Sayegh was that the board Chair was Ted Adshade, a board member was his wife, and their daughter, Bonnie Adshade had become district secretary working for the general manager. Mr. Sayegh created a website that I think was called the “Royal Flush” wherein he would post the egregious behaviors of the District day by day. The claim of obvious Brown act violations ran rampant throughout the site. Unless you were involved in operations of wastewater treatment, or had a stake in the atrocities being conducted, or was an acquaintance of Mr. Sayegh, you would not have much need for the website. Still, the District ran about conducting its apparent non-transparent business.

Around 2005, District Manager Girard decided that the District was not being paid enough by the Sea Ranch golf course for the tertiary treatment phase of the District’s wastewater treatment. The tertiary treatment of the wastewater was necessary to allow by state permit to discharge the treated grey water effluent onto the golf course for irrigation purposes. Mr. Girard reportedly acted unilaterally and disconnected service to the golf course, an action that volumetrically backed up the supply side of wastewater from the north section of the Sea Ranch, while filling the storage ponds to capacity at the District’s wastewater treatment facility.

This in effect presented a problem for the State Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Department of Health Services. Mr. Girard reportedly did not respond to the Golf Course’s request, and the lawsuit card was dealt by both the Golf Course, and reverse suit was compiled by GCSD. Meanwhile the storage ponds of Sea Ranch North and GCSD were filling to capacity. The word of the day was lawsuit, but nobody really understood what was at stake with district manager operator autonomy and an ineffectual communication of the GCSD board to its constituents.

Marshall Sayegh’s website, the Royal Flush became inundated with comment and site visits. Meanwhile Kat Kuhlman of the Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a “cease and desist” order to the GCSD district manager. The order went pretty much ignored for about a week, and then by some behind the scenes action by Mr. Sayegh, the system was reconnected, and the Golf Course was now again receiving treated wastewater.

But it did not end there. The time and money spent with lawyers and threats of lawsuits increased. The Golf Course needed to pay for the actual tertiary phase treatment costs but even the Golf Course was ineffectual in initiating or being a part of productive conversation. Adshade was no help either. He was reported to put his trust in Girard’s operational actions but bore no brunt of the actual violations. Instead, he reportedly came down with dementia and was replaced by a newcomer GCSD board chair, Pat Bailey.

(In Part 2, The continuation of what I call “after Adshade.”)

3 Comments

  1. chris troyan January 29, 2019

    When is Part 4 going to be released?

  2. George Dorner January 25, 2019

    Thanks for finally posting Part 1. Maybe I can now make sense of the previously published Parts 2 and 3.

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