Our Response to David Betonte’s Tribune Viewpoint

Morro Bay resident David Betonte wrote a passionately worded, but misleading viewpoint in The Tribune to support of the city’s Water Reclamation Facility. What he wrote also supports our concerns for the project.

Betonte doesn’t want our city to become the next Los Osos as a result of delays, but he cites significant delays by the city, which — for some reason — he doesn’t see as delays at all.

He mentioned the city has tried to replace its aging infrastructure “since at least 2003,” which is 15 years ago; that the city started focusing on building a new treatment plant in 2013, which Mayor Jamie Irons said would only cost $12-20 million more. What he didn’t mention was the escalation in costs with project estimates ranging from $150-167 million after five years.

He mentioned the “result” of the city’s “inclusive and deliberative planning process” was the selection of a new location. What he didn’t mention was the city considered 17 alternative sites within a five-year period and stalled on the design-build process. While location is paramount to a project, there are other project components to consider. Dwelling on only one aspect is a delay in itself.

Betonte reiterated a popular talking point among city officials, stating the council listened to residents and “paused” the project investigate and address concerns about the WRF. The end result of that “pause,” he claims, was the hiring of a program manager to oversee the project, which happened this year. That’s false. The “pause” was the commissioning of an independent peer review of the project last year. The end result of that pause was a series of cost-saving recommendations, which including building a new plant at the current site or nearby for $38-43 million less than the currently proposed project, yet Betonte also claimed there was “no evidence” cheaper project alternatives really existed.

I find it curious for a member of our city’s Citizens Finance Committee would ignore a report his colleagues reviewed last year.

Betonte refutes activists and their “self-appointed experts who vociferously oppose the city’s project” for having no factual basis to claims the city mismanaged the project. There is no accounting of the funds spent for the $75 million residents already approved for the project in 2015, so there’s no factual basis the city managed the project correctly — especially when the city is expected to raise water and sewer rates again for the same project at twice the original cost.

Betonte was right about one thing: we don’t know the final cost of the project and the effect on monthly sewer rates. But it’s an unmistakable fact project costs have seriously escalated and will continue to escalate under Betonte’s preferred leadership. Organizations like Save Morro Bay and Citizens for Affordable Living have read the tea leaves, observed the city’s trends and miscalculations, and decided to move forward with opposing the rate hikes. The consensus is clear: we want a project that’s complaint with all participating regulatory agencies, but not at any cost.

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