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New water plant site riles elderly neighbors and others in Escondido
By J. Harry Jones | November 9, 2016

Residents in an Escondido retirement home are continuing to fight the city’s plan to build a large recycled water treatment plant next door to their complex, at the corner of Washington Avenue and Ash Street.

City representatives met last week with more than 100 people at the Springs of Escondido retirement home to explain more about the $29 million dollar treatment plant and why it must go on the city-owned property.

The conversation didn’t go well. Many of the residents — some in wheel chairs, others using walkers — said they’re afraid they won’t survive the 15 months of noise and disruption that construction of the plant would bring.

They also said they’re worried about the chemicals that would be stored and used at the plant because many of the Springs’ elderly residents already suffer from a host of maladies.

Thursday’s meeting was also attended by people who live in nearby homes or own businesses in the neighborhood. All said they’re worried that putting an industrial treatment plant in an otherwise commercial and residential area could hurt their property values.

The Springs is owned by Holiday Retirement, which has hired Escondido land-use attorney Everett DeLano to fight the project. DeLano said how the water plant will affect surrounding residents and commercial interests should play a big role in whether the city’s Planning Commission approves the project at a hearing scheduled for Dec. 13.

The city-owned 4-acre parcel was not the first choice for the water plant. Officials initially wanted to build it on city-owned land a couple miles to the east on a vacant parcel sandwiched between nice, newer homes. Residents there raised such a fuss that the Planning Commission voted to deny the permit and the City Council ordered its staff to find another location.

At last week’s meeting, some residents said they felt their neighborhood was chosen as the new home for the plant because it’s less wealthy than the previous site.

“… Your construction will devalue this property so badly that even the residents now living here will want to move the heck out of here,” said 92-year-old Norman Maxwell. “I’m ashamed of all of you.”

The meeting was led by City Manager Graham Mitchell and Director of Utilities Christopher McKinney, who talked about how badly the plant is needed and said that all other possible locations had been exhausted.

The plant will essentially desalinate water that will be pumped to it from the city’s main treatment center on the west side of town. That treated water will then be pumped to eastern Escondido to be used primarily for irrigation of avocado groves and other agriculture businesses. Many years from now, McKinney said, the plant could be expanded to treat recycled water and turn it into drinkable water, but such an expansion would probably be 10 to 20 years down the road.

The entire recycled water project will cost the city about $275 million, McKinney said. Although bringing the water to eastern Escondido customers is a benefit, the real reason for building the plan is to save money.

He said said the city has outgrown the capacity of a fallout pipe at its main treatment facility, which dumps treated sewage into the Pacific Ocean. By adding the treatment plant and sending the water east, the city won’t have to replace the fallout pipe at a cost of $500 million or more — money the city doesn’t have.

McKinney also said it is unlikely the city could even get approval for a new fallout pipe because of environmental concerns since the pipe would have to closely follow Escondido Creek.

Following Thursday’s meeting, 78-year-old Geri Teutsch, a resident of the Springs, said the conversation was informative but also depressing for many.

“Most of us feel like we really don’t have a heck of a chance to change their minds,” she said. “ You heard me stand up and say you guys are more interested in money than our lives here. They really don’t have a clue about how tough it is for us older people.”

jharry.jones@sduniontribune.com 760/529-4931 Copyright © 2016, The San Diego Union-Tribune

 

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