The Murphys Sanitary District, having surpassed its sewage-system capacity, is considering instituting a building moratorium.
That surprising news kicked off a board meeting of more than three hours Thursday night as General Manager Julio Guerra announced he and District Engineer Gary Ghio reached that conclusion in reviewing estimated flows through the district’s treatment plant.
“Gary and I have been crunching numbers and it appears we are over capacity right now … 18,000 gallons (per day)” Guerra said. “This is serious.”
“That pretty much summarizes it,” Ghio added. “I’m the bearer of bad news as usual.”
The district serves 837 connections and about 1,500 people in Murphys and may have reached capacity as far back as 2006, according to Guerra.
“At some point, the ‘m’ word will likely take shape,” he said. “Moratorium.”
Districts are required to notify state and local regulatory agencies four years before they expect to reach capacity. Guerra said that obviously was not done. Nevertheless, he said he does not expect penalties to be handed down as a result.
The district is already dealing with a notice of violation this spring from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board for improperly storing thousands of cubic yards of sewage sludge on-site for nearly a decade.
“They’re getting the picture that things are coming into focus and they’re happy things are coming into focus,” Guerra said of the regional board’s sentiments.
The realization of capacity may explain a nagging district problem, Guerra added.
“(It) helps to explain the frequency of sewer spills that have occurred over the years,” he said.
Guerra said the district must be prepared to spend some money on preliminary engineering work for system upgrades to address capacity problems and also noted that Ghio has been able to establish that Murphys can qualify for state grant funding as a so-called “disadvantaged community.”
In budget deliberations that began Thursday in the lead-up to a scheduled June 11 vote, a tentative figure of $120,000 was set for the preliminary engineering.
Guerra also informed the board that the cost to haul about 5,000 cubic yards of the sewage sludge to an approved storage site is likely to come in at double the cost of earlier estimates, and is now tabbed at about $225,000 because the material has become more densely packed than previously thought through the years it has been in place.
To make up for the added costs in 2012-2013, directors and staff went line item-by-line item through the proposed budget and deleted more than $200,000 worth of supplies, equipment and capital improvement expenses.
The board also acted on a proposed salary schedule, agreeing unanimously to stick with what is now in place and merely changing job titles to make them current.
An earlier proposal had suggested a pay cut of as much as $5 for the district’s longest-tenured employee of 17 years, Ralph Emerson, whose title has changed from operations manager to field supervisor. Emerson has written multiple letters in protest of that proposal and submitted another just before Thursday’s meeting.
“Change of job description, change of job title, change in compensation package, loss of a weeks (sic) vacation pay, operational changes, possible salary decrease, trying to hurt me in public and wrongfully accuse me of things I did not do,” Emerson wrote. “All of these things have happened to me recently because I reacted negatively to questionable MSD governance practices … The actions taken against me along with the environment of the district have affected every part of my life … I have been seeing doctors, chiropractors and therapists for almost a year because I have constant neck, back and headaches because of these questionable actions and stress they have caused.”
Directors also voted 3-1 to freeze annual cost-of-living pay increases to staff, with Director Ryan Van Cleave dissenting.
With a director’s seat vacant due to Cynthia Trade’s April 9 resignation, the board voted on two applications to succeed her. Van Cleave and Patricia Davies voted to appoint Joyce Hauck-Swanson while Tim O’Flinn and Delma Harris voted to appoint former board president Fred Kett.
The deadlock means the board must agree on an appointment in a special meeting prior to June 8 or the appointment goes to the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors to make the pick.