Wary Dillon Beach residents interested in wastewater study

01/30/2019

During a meeting Tuesday night to discuss their water needs, residents of Dillon Beach expressed both doubts about and interest in working with the county to develop water-use projects for the oceanside community. The meeting was the second in a series of three that the county is using to evaluate water concerns in the area—an effort funded by a $49,000 grant from the state Department of Water Resources that targets water resource planning and decision-making in disadvantaged or rural communities. At the initial meeting, held in November, residents voiced concerns about a host of water-related issues, including the over-use of water by short-term rental visitors and leaking sewer lines. Afterwards, the county sent out a survey to get a clearer vision of projects the community wanted. On Tuesday, Lorene Jackson, a county project manager, presented the results of the survey, which received a 38 percent response rate from the developed parts of the community. The results showed that 50 percent of residents were concerned about failing septic systems elsewhere in the village and the cost of maintaining or remodeling their current systems; 45 percent had no concerns about their water quality and 60 percent had no concerns about their individual septic system. Although nearly 50 percent of respondents had said they would be interested in having a not-for-profit water district, Ms. Jackson noted that it was unlikely they would be able to convert to such a system, as Cal Water, which owns the town’s system, “has made it clear they don’t want to sell,” she said. Nearly 75 percent of respondents said that they felt that doing a feasibility study to look at the alternatives of a community wastewater system would be worthwhile, and Ms. Jackson suggested that residents and the county apply for a grant to fund such a study. Yet part-time resident Teri Parrish asked if such a system would end up prohibitively expensive. “We’ve heard of some homeowners paying $40,000 to connect in, and then an annual fee,” Ms. Parrish said. Ms. Jackson explained that when the county set up a similar system in Marshall it received grant funding for a feasibility study and an engineering report, which knocked $20,000 off the initial assessment. “We were able to cut the cost quite a bit, but new people who connect have to pay almost $40,000 because they don’t have the benefit of the grant,” she admitted. Ms. Jackson added that Marshall’s system could not be replicated in Dillon Beach due to certain space constraints. She suggested instead exploring “something like we [are studying] in Woodacre—a treatment unit,” she told the Light. Theresa Buyrne, who has lived in the community for two decades, suggested the county look into a project to help those with bottomless septic tanks expand or redirect them. “I think we should talk about ways we can, with this extra money, work from the bottom up, because the runoff and the groundwater isn’t helping anyone in the village,” she said. When one resident asked if the grant could be used to offset the cost of water in the village, Ms. Jackson said she didn’t believe the funding stream was set up to “do an ongoing payment of people’s water supply.” While numerous attendees did voice many water-related complaints—from a lack of clarity about commercial remodels to anger over Cal Water damaging property by misplacing water lines—few brought up major issues that they wanted the county to rectify through the kind of project it is aiming to deliver. Ms. Jackson said the main survey feedback was for the feasibility study. “People were responding to that, nobody challenged that, and we’ll see as [more] survey results come in.” she said. But a general sense of distrust of the county seemed to be holding some residents back. “I think what they’re trying to do is meddling in places where it’s not required,” said Trina Rocine, who has lived in Dillon Beach full-time for four years. “Overall, people don’t have issues here.” And even those who do see problems don’t necessarily want to work with the county, said Cheri Gosselin. If projects get developed and many improvements are made, she said, “people are afraid of what’s going to happen after. Taxes go sky-high, old-timers can’t afford it anymore.” “Marin County is hell to deal with,” said Ms. Gosselin, echoing complaints from other residents who brought up the difficulty of remodeling homes in the face of the county’s expensive and extensive permitting requirements for septic systems. “Now they’re saying they’ll work with us?”