Clear As Mud

Sanitation directors confusion is evident

It was kind of embarrassing, the way Brea City Councilman Roy Moore—the city's representative on the Orange County Sanitation District's (OCSD) board of directors—stumbled over some of his words and bumbled some of his facts while responding to more than an hour of public comment from about a dozen environmental activists at the June 4 council meeting.

But maybe it was kind of understandable, too. Not completely excusable, but understandable.

"I've been in finance all my life—what do I know about processing sewage?" asked Moore, who is beginning his second year as a member of the OCSD board, when contacted at home by the Weekly. "Some may say that by being in politics, I do it every day—but this is serious. I want to do what's right."

At issue is more than 240 million gallons of substandardly treated sewage that the OCSD spews into the local ocean every day—sewage that critics suspect is partially responsible for bacterial infestations that close county beaches. The OCSD has never complied with the sewage-treatment standards of the 1972 Clean Water Act, applying to the Environmental Protection Agency for a 301 (h) waiver that grants it an exception. That waiver expires in 2003, and the environmentalist Ocean Outfall Group (OOG) doesn't want the sanitation district to apply for another.

"It would be unconscionable for any director to vote to keep the waiver if we knew we were causing bacteria at the beaches and infecting people," Moore asserted.

The OOG asked the Brea City Council to consider a resolution against the waiver. But despite their case, which included the scientific, economic, political and emotional aspects of the issue, the Brea council declined.

"Thank you for your input," Mayor Marty Simonoff said, "but Councilman Moore has kept us well-informed."

But when Simonoff gave Moore an opportunity to share his information, it turned into a five-minute recitation rife with inaccuracies.

Moore said recent scientific studies proved "no bacteria from the outfall pipe ever reaches the beach." Wrong. The OCSD's recent $5.1 million study was inconclusive.

Moore stumbled over the financial figures involved in upgrading sewage treatment. Studies suggest it would cost the average household between 11 cents and 15 cents per day to bring the county's oceangoing sewage into compliance with federal standards established 30 years ago.

Moore said 16 Orange County cities have "decided to wait for the science before taking a position" on the waiver. Not true. Of the 25 cities and water agencies represented on the district board, nine have sided with the OOG. None of the remaining 16 has considered a position either way.

Moore said disinfection of the sewage—through the use of massive quantities of bleach—was scheduled to begin this summer. Nope. The OCSD has not made a decision regarding the controversial use of bleach.

Is this the information that Moore has been relaying to the council?

Simonoff hedged when contacted by the Weeklya few days later. "Well, the information . . . well . . . there were a couple of things . . . well . . . I guess it was obvious that Roy misstated certain things," Simonoff said. "I don't think he intentionally misstated. He was basically speaking off the cuff with no information and trying to respond to what the activists said with something that would show there is a balance."

When Moore looked back, he wasn't ready to defend the information he provided at the council meeting either.

"I can't remember exactly what I said," he admitted. "I thought the OOG was going to bring one or two people to talk. But they talked for an hour. I took notes for a while, but then I stopped, and when it was my turn, I just talked off the top of my head. I got a little confused."

Moore went on to acknowledge that he is still undecided—and still rather confused—because the OCSD directors rely on general manager Blake Anderson and his staff for their information.

"They can pretty much tell you anything, and you feel like if you disagree or something, you're stupid," Moore said. "For a year, I didn't say anything at the meetings. I was just trying to learn and stuff. But I still don't know. I guess I just sense that the stuff is really . . . that the people at the sanitation district have nothing to gain by not secondarily treating. Still, I'd like to hear more from the outside scientists."

However, a final report from the $5.1 million study by outside scientists is not due until the fall. Meanwhile, the OCSD board has scheduled an informational meeting on June 19 and a preliminary decision on June 26. That time frame bothers Moore.

"To tell you the truth, I see no reason to vote June 26 on this," he said. "I would be in favor of putting it off until September or October, if we could get more information that could help us. I know I could use at least one extra month.

"I haven't had much say down there, but I'm going to get more vocal now. I would like to hear an answer to the OOG's questions."

 
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