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Escondido water plant hearing set for Wednesday
By J. Harry Jones| January 7, 2017

A controversial plan to build a large recycled water treatment plant at the corner of Washington Avenue and Ash Street will come to a head Wednesday when the Escondido City Council is tasked with making a final decision.A month ago the city’s Planning Commission unanimously approved the city utilities department’s request to build the plant despite objections from people who live in the area, including many elderly residents of a retirement home next door.

The reverse-osmosis plant will take water that has already been partially treated at the city’s facility in western Escondido and, using various chemicals, be further desalinated to make it usable for agriculture. The water will then be piped to eastern Escondido and the San Pasqual Valley for use in avocado groves and elsewhere. Farmers have long looked forward to the treated water because the high cost of using potable water on crops makes it difficult to turn a profit.

Last year the plan was to build the plant a couple miles further east on a city-owned plot in a residential neighborhood close to the intersection of El Norte Parkway and Washington, however those plans were scrapped after residents raised a huge fuss, convinced the planning commission to vote it down, and then convinced the council not to bother hearing an appeal. Instead the council ordered staff to find a new location.

Councilwoman Olga Diaz and an attorney representing more than 100 residents of The Springs of Escondido retirement community, next door to the site, requested the decision be appealed to the council.

ttorney Everett DeLano has urged the council to deny the project “based upon sound principles of land use and in response to services required by the community.” He told the council in a letter the plant will cause a deterioration of bordering land uses and will be detrimental to the community and neighborhood plans previously outlined by the city.

Some detractors would rather see the plant be built closer to the existing water treatment plant, perhaps on land currently being used as a public works storage yard — an area the council has hoped would one day turn into a high-tech business park.

Chris McKinney, the director of utilities for the city, has said that while providing water to eastern Escondido farmers is a benefit of the plant, the main reason for constructing it is to diminish the amount of water that must be dumped into the ocean.

An outfall pipe that takes Escondido’s used water to the sea is nearing capacity. To replace it could cost a billion dollars or more, he told the commission on Dec. 13. The plant will eliminate the need to replace the pipe by diverting great amounts of water for other purposes. It is also possible that a decade or more from now the plant will double in size in order to turn recycled water into drinkable water.

As designed now, the plant would occupy only half of the city-owned vacant lot at Washington and Ash, the half closest to Ash Street. The Springs retirement home is located to the east and would be hundreds of feet away.

But residents there have said the noise from the construction of the plant will disrupt their lives. Many have health issues and some worry the noise and disruption might kill them. They also worry about the chemicals that will be stored and used in the desalination plant. The city has assured them there will be no smell and no risk to pubic health.

Business owners and other residents in the neighborhood have also complained. They would rather see new commercial uses for the lot, or perhaps a mixed residential and commercial development. A water plant, they said, will do nothing to spur economic development in the area.

In December, Planning Commission Chairman Jeffrey Weber said he was supporting the project because “I think this new facility is an integral part of our water system and for the greater good of the city.”

He also said a quiet, odorless treatment plant would be a better option and neighbor for the The Springs residents than just about any other use.

The meeting begins at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in the council chambers, 201 N. Broadway.

jharry.jones@sduniontribune.com; 760/529-4931; Twitter: @jharryjones

 

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