2017-04-21 / Front Page

Desalter site plan upsets neighbors

Officials say location needs to meet numerous requirements
By Stephanie Sumell

The city is making progress toward building a regional desalter plant, but the proposed location of the project has drawn the ire of homeowners who live in a nearby housing tract called Country Lane.

Last week, the Camarillo City Council accepted $4.91 million of a roughly $18-million state grant that was awarded to the Watersheds Coalition of Ventura County for six regional water projects.

Many years in the making, the desalter will use reverse osmosis to treat brackish water from the Pleasant Valley groundwater basin in Camarillo.

The excess salt would be pumped into the ocean through a pipeline, and the remaining water will supply residents and businesses in the city’s service area.

While many Country Lane residents voiced support for building a desalter, the dozen who spoke at last week’s council meeting said they opposed its intended location, a 5-acre plot of land on the north side of Antonio Avenue across from St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital.

The land owned by Oxnard Union High School District is close to their homes. The Country Lane neighborhood is to the east of the hospital. Assistant City Manager Tom Fox told the Acorn the city has looked into other locations for the desalter, but the Antonio Avenue property met multiple requirements needed by the various agencies involved. The second location under consideration was just north of Rancho Campana High School; the other properties near the top of the list were in the city’s northeast area.

While the homeowners aren’t happy, how much say they’ll have remains to be seen. Last June, the council approved an environmental report for the project after an advertised public hearing. Though the city says it followed proper protocol, many Country Lane residents said they only found out about the project when the council hired American Water Operations and Maintenance Inc. in March to review designs.

Roy Sakamoto said he was annoyed that the city did not try harder to keep neighbors informed.

“It would have been nice to have at least some opportunity to discuss the situation and be given a voice in all of this,” he said.

Jonathan Kunke said the area has been inundated with construction for years, most recently at St. John’s. “We’re frustrated because it does feel like there’s not a lot left for us to do,” he said. “The reality is, we do support this plant; it just seems like that, with the other locations that are mentioned, this is the only one that’s in close proximity to a residential community.”

Evita Kunke, his wife, said the city seems to have forgotten the wants and needs of the neighborhood. She urged the city to revisit other potential sites.

“My husband and I want to start a family . . . and now we feel like we have this added stress of wanting to remove ourselves from this community if this continues on,” she said. “The lack of communication has felt like such a lack of regard for us.

“Now all we’re asking for is . . . to be able to be heard and to be considered in making this decision.”

Joel Scolavino, another Country Lane resident, asked what sort of emissions will come from the plant.

“I’ve heard through third parties that . . . there are going to be no emissions coming from this (plant), which is totally impossible” he said. “As you’ve heard from some of our neighbors here, they plan on having families, so we should know if there’s going to be any sort of health risks going on.”

Gavin Jones, a Country Lane resident and an emergency nurse at Ventura County Medical Center, said it isn’t too late for the city to change its course.

“We just want to work with you and make sure that this works, but we’d like to do it in an area that’s going to be beneficial to all.”

Alan Zatkin said the desalter would pose a major intrusion to nearby residents and it’s not practical to expect people to scour the papers or City Council agendas for projects they know nothing about.

“Our elected officials, who are supposed to represent us, have done the absolute minimum to serve and protect us,” he said, asking the city to hold off on buying the proposed site. “An EIR was apparently done and minimally publicized in a manner that effectively kept us as adjacent homeowners . . . in the dark until the absolute final stage and land purchase and design work were pretty much underway.”

Zatkin encouraged his neighbors to take legal action if the city moves forward but said he would prefer to work cooperatively.

Rita Zhalybira said Country Lane is a beautiful place where residents and visitors enjoy being close to nature.

“We are a small community but we are voters,” she said. “We voted for the management to protect our rights and not to betray us and go behind our backs. We want our needs to be accounted for.”

After the meeting, Fox told the Acorn the city will revisit the other sites and city staff will be meeting with residents sometime in May to discuss the project in more detail.

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