For Poseidon, the May amendment to California's ocean plan, which clarified desalination rules, is a double-edged sword.
Yesterday morning, when an independent panel of scientists and economists picked by both the Coastal Commission and Poseidon hosted a public meeting in Huntington Beach to present the findings of the second phase of a possible three-phase study on the feasibility of sub-surface intakes at the Huntington Beach project, it was a weapon. The amendment allowed the use of older open ocean intakes in cases where the more environmentally friendly sub-surface intakes were unfeasible, and the panel scientists had found that those intakes would be economically unfeasible, adding upwards of $1 billion to the cost of the already approximately $1 billion project.
The panel members were there to answer questions on a very narrow subject -- the economics of sub-surface intakes for the project -- but like during most other desalination meetings for the past few years, supporters on both sides of the project spoke with broad strokes. Supporters of the project spoke on the need for union jobs, the importance of keeping the beaches open, and how much Orange County needed the water. Activists fighting against the project spoke on their worries about construction near a Superfund site, unnecessary costs, and the pragmatism of building the plant in a subduction and tsunami zone. Neither side really had any questions for the panel. Project supporters outnumbered the detractors, and while there was really no victory to be won that day, it felt like Poseidon had won one nevertheless.
But in the late afternoon, the amendment became a weapon against Poseidon. At nearly 5 p.m., multiple organizations, including OC Coastkeeper and Surfrider, released a statement that said they would withdraw their appeal of a Poseidon permit--one of over a dozen the company needed to build the plant. Their reason was simple: They had just received a letter from the State Water Resources Control Board that stated that Poseidon would have to reapply for a permit to prove that they complied with the new desalination regulations.
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"According to a letter from the State Water Resources Control Board to the coalition of environmental and community organizations that was released today, Poseidon's temporary permit has expired and has been effectively revoked," the statement read.
The letter, which the Weekly obtained, was more lawyerly with its words:
If the proposed Huntington Beach desalination facility does not meet the definition of an "existing facility" [i.e. receive all its necessary permits, including a Coastal Commission permit] on the date that the Office of Administrative Law approves the desalination amendments, the proposed Huntington Beach facility to all of the requirements of the desalination amendments. In this case, Poseidon Resources (Surfside) L.L.C. would need to submit a new or revised request...
How this affects the Orange County Water District's ongoing negotiations with Poseidon on a water purchase contract will be seen.. Until then, you can have until September 10 to make comments on the economic feasibility of sub-surface intakes. Send them in if you have them, and even if you don't, that's okay too.