The oft-troubled Murphys Sanitary District got a dose of good news recently with approval of a $335,000 planning grant from a state agency to begin efforts to upgrade an outdated and undersized sewage treatment plant.
The grant will fund engineers’ design of a new plant and/or evaluation of decommissioning the current one and connecting to a nearby existing plant. The new CCWD plant for Douglas Flat and Vallecito is a likely option.
Murphys Sanitary District General Manager Julio Guerra said a new plant could alleviate the capacity concerns that caused the district to consider a building moratorium last year. Those discussions drew audible gasps in what is arguably the most prosperous community in Calaveras County.
Cited in MSD’s successful grant application are deficiencies in the system that leave inadequate storage capacity in holding parts for wet weather conditions and filters that cannot process treated water sufficiently to meet the demands of an irrigation contract with neighboring Ironstone Vineyards.
Funding is to be distributed in phases through May 2015. One required step in the process to keep the money flowing from the State Water Resources Control Board is to conduct a rate study by August 2014.
To complete construction of a new plant, funding “in the $1 million range” will be required, Guerra said. Murphys does qualify for grants as a “disadvantaged community” by federal standards, he said, but almost certainly will not get a 100 percent grant but rather a combination of grants and loans.
The MSD Board of Directors also concluded last month a series of closed-session meetings that led to the exit of Field Supervisor Ralph Emerson.
Emerson spent about four years as the top staff member for MSD until the hiring of Guerra in January 2012. Fingers were pointed in Emerson’s direction by members of the public at board meetings once it became evident last spring that the district would need to spend more than $200,000 to remove sewage sludge illegally buried for a decade near the treatment ponds. Emerson said he buried the sludge at the direction of the board and with the knowledge of state regulators.
Directors suspended Emerson without pay for a month in September 2011 after he referred to a female board member in grossly profane terms in the presence of two female administrative staffers. He apologized for that action in a disciplinary hearing opened to the public at his request.
Last year, the board re-defined Emerson’s job description and changed his job title from “operations manager” to “field supervisor” but kept his pay and benefits at the same level.
Details of what led to Emerson’s exit are a matter of confidentiality, Guerra said.
“I can tell you Mr. Emerson is no longer with the district but that’s all I can tell you,” he said.
“I’ve got 18 years of service at MSD and I’m in a place where I’m considering some other interests but I have mixed feelings about leaving so MSD and I are working out some agreements to try and not leave the customers hanging and the district hanging, where I can use my experience and historical knowledge to help them and then also pursue my own interests,” Emerson said.
Emerson also said he anticipated discussion about making those agreements public at the next board meeting later this month.
The Board of Directors is again short a member after the resignation of Ryan Van Cleave more than two months ago. Since more than 60 days have passed without an appointment to the vacancy, the decision is now in the hands of the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors.
Since July 2011, every position on the board has turned over at least once. The last appointee to come on board was Joseph Fontana in October 2012.
Van Cleave did not specify a reason for his resignation and could not be reached for comment. His residency in the district was unsuccessfully challenged last year with district counsel satisfied that his ownership of a home and receipt of mail within its bounds qualified him to serve.