One of the more crucial and complex steps along the journey to a fully reviewed and permitted Sustainable Water Facility has arrived. After a long and challenging road the 2,000 page document was posted for review and comment, a required step that allows the public, the agencies and other interested parties to read and comment on the environmental impacts and the potential mitigation steps to be taken to ensure our environment will not suffer unnecessary or irreparable harm due to its operation. The document itself can be intimidating. It contains healthy doses of text, charts, statistics, studies and results – a host of information that could overwhelm even the heartiest of us if taken in one large bite. Gaining access to the complete tome requires a lot of downloading and organizing, or a trip to the library to view the hard copy. Pack a lunch!
A Public Workshop was held on Tuesday, October 11th at the Vet’s Hall. The session was fairly well attended, with about 50 or so interested members of the community listening to three primary speakers. The Town Engineer gave a history of the project. The consultants who ran the EIR project followed with more detail on the process they used and finally a walk-through of the document structure. They highlighted the relevant sections of the report, and did an outstanding job of breaking it down into understandable bites.
A main component of the session was Public Comment, where folks came to the podium to have their questions entered into the record. Each question submitted by the public or by interested agencies is recorded, and will be answered in the next stage of the process. 5 speakers asked questions, with the meat of them focusing on long-term operating costs and the methods of removing and transporting waste from the plant’s operating processes. I believe the percentage of waste, or “unrecoverable output” – brine and some residual chemicals used in the treatment process is estimated to be about 8%. I will stop now, as I’ve reached (or exceeded) my level of understanding and don’t wish to be Facebook – shamed by those much smarter than me!
The audience was very focused and friendly. The presenters were terrific, putting together a deck that clearly identified the critical information the public needed and where we could go within the document to find specific information. (As someone who has built and led a Project Management Organization responsible for the documentation and execution of complex technical projects, I was very impressed with the team. I’d hire them!)
The meeting concluded, and some of the attendees milled about, talking and sharing thoughts on the session. It was a nice, relaxed and positive time, only slightly marred by an unidentified individual who was surreptitiously taken pictures of some of us with her cell phone. It was a little creepy, but what the heck – it was a public meeting! My morning dose of Dayquil was beginning to wear off, so I headed out to grab the mail and get home before my coughing set of the earthquake sensors.
The Scene. Somewhere in the West (Village). Noon-day sun beating down on the parking lot. A few cars remain. Gathered near the Vet’s Hall, a small group of men speak animatedly. Cue Ennio Morricone music.
“The Blogger” shuffles towards his car, his increasingly sub-medicated cough growing to the level of Val Kilmer’s character of Doc Holiday in “Tombstone”. He reaches his hybrid, unlocks the driver side door and sits. His gaze wanders back to where he just left, falling on the group of men engaged in discussion. He squints, sunglass-less, wondering – “Is that Eli Wallach? And who is the man in black??? He desperately needs more cough suppressant. He then realizes that no, it’s not Eli Wallach, it’s Harry Farmer. And The Man In Black was actually fellow CCSD Board candidate Tom Kirkey. The blogger, who had been reaching out for weeks trying to get a dialog going with Tom and his fellow candidates, saw this as a potential opportunity to break the ice and start that conversation. He coughs, wipes his nose and mouth with a pile of Kleenex, squirts some sanitizer into his hands, and slowly approaches the group. A flute/ocarina/choir call and response echoed in his head. The sun grew hotter. Scarecrows stood and watched in mute expectation. Eyes meet. A hand is extended in greeting, identity revealed. It begins.
“I’m a tough dude.”
“I could use a cough drop”
OK, so half of that is true. Our discussion did start off a bit tense. I assume Tom’s comment was in response to a question I initially included in an earlier post where I alluded to a candidate who was behaving aggressively. I later changed my post and removed that reference, understanding it was unfair to all the candidates. After a few minutes of discussion, we both grew comfortable enough to have a good exchange around the issues facing the community, and Tom’s views on why he would be a good fit for the CSD Board. I believe a good part of the comfort came from understanding that our backgrounds in Technical Project Management gave us a common language that we could use to “argue” through the issues. (I use “argue” because Tom shared his experience working with Engineers, which mirrored my experience. I remember being a bit surprised and confused with how the different Engineering disciplines worked together in design phases – they “argued” their points because that is how they are trained.) We went through several top-of mind topics. Tom has strong views on how the CCSD is financially managed, stating in his opinion that there is no 5-year plan to manage the budgets. He pointed to the very real difficulty of balancing revenues against expenses, and that running a business in constant deficit was not sustainable.
Tom also shared his thoughts on the use of consultants, offering that the community has a wealth of experienced and thoughtful people who could potentially fill the necessary roles as volunteers. He favors citizen-staffed committees and advisory boards that would assist the Board and Staff and provide a more direct community voice to the process.
Tom shared his views on growth. My interpretation of his position is that there needs to be growth, but it needs to be tightly managed so we keep a sensible balance between expansion and the town’s ability to absorb it – not only water but all infrastructure that is needed to service the community.
We discussed the SWF, and my takeaway is that he favors letting the EIR process run its course, make the best decisions based on the input received, and then proceed with the plant. The plant needs to run to be of value, and he has no desire to see it mothballed.
In discussing the Water Wait List and undeveloped lots, Tom made an interesting comment. He would like to see who is on the list, and determine who truly wants to build a home in Cambria and who is only interested in profiting from their investment. He also shared that in his view Directors who have lots on the Water Wait List should be disqualified from engaging in Board business that relates to the future of those lots.
On the subject of revenues, Tom has some ideas about looking at the wait list, potentially granting more intent to serve letters, collecting the fees but not allowing any building until the water and infrastructure issues are addressed.
Overall, I found our conversation to be frank, straightforward and informative. I think I have a better understanding of Tom and why he is a candidate. He thinks he would do a good job, and that changing even one member of the Board would give some in the community the feeling that their voices are heard and represented.
By the end of our discussion my cough had become constant, so we wrapped up, and fist-bumped our goodbyes. Tom asked that if anyone had any questions or concerns they should reach out to him directly.
A short while after we spoke, Tom followed up with an email. He expressed a bit of concern that, with all contentiousness around the election, he didn’t want his positions to be misquoted or misunderstood. I sympathize with his concerns, and want to restate that my blog reflects my point of view based on my interpretations and observations of what I see and hear. Each candidate is the final arbiter of their own positions, and they all have expressed a willingness to discuss them with the community.
Thursday evening brought Cambrians a second opportunity to see and hear the candidates vying for the three Director slots up for grabs. This Forum, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and moderated by The League of Women Voters, would be the only time where all candidates – challengers and incumbents – agreed to participate. Unfortunately, Tom Kirkey had a late family emergency that took him away from the event.
The room filled up quickly – a very good turnout of interested citizens. Questions were gathered from the audience, the contestants took the stage, and the forum began. After each candidate delivered opening remarks, the question and answer session began… and quickly faltered. It was unclear how the process was going to work, and the first question was delivered to the candidate least likely to have a relevant answer. After a few fits and starts, things seemed to smooth out, but in reality the entire rest of the session was not very crisply managed.
The candidates all performed as expected, with few surprises in the answers given and positions taken. There were a few moments that were a bit rough – particularly when a question was raised about rehabilitating certain wells that had been contaminated by chemicals from a gasoline leak. Director Sanders gave a detailed response about the well, the contaminants, and the monitoring by various agencies. He stated that the well should not be used until all contamination was gone. Dewayne Lee agreed with him. Then, when it was her turn to respond, Director Rice said that the well had, in fact, been rehabilitated and was now free of contaminants. This very different response from two sitting directors was surprising and a bit unsettling. A few other audience questions went around the table, including one about the perceived difference in rates paid by commercial customers versus residential customers. Director Rice, who was on the committee that ultimately proposed the rate structure now in place, gave the most credible answer, as one would expect.
There was another moment of discomfort when candidate Harry Farmer implied through an answer he gave that the CCSD Board is lying to the public. Director Sanders asked for clarification – was Mr. Farmer accusing the Board of lying? Mr. Farmer replied with an affirmative head nod and raised hands in the universally recognized “DUH!!!” gesture.
Candidates gave their closing remarks (after another bout of confusion around how long those statements could be) and the session came to a close. I don’t know if any minds were changed, or if any decisions were made about who will get the votes. Overall, I felt like it was a nice evening out with the community. Except for the second instance of surreptitious camerawork. An audience member, who had been popping around the room filming the event, walked past my row with her cellphone held waist high, filming each person as she walked past us. I watched the screen as she passed the folks sitting next to me. Real James Bond stuff there!
Next time – my chat with Gail Robinette.