Winton frustrated with cost of Atwater wastewater plant

Officials consider building their own facility

10/20/2011 8:54 PM

10/21/2011 5:08 AM

WINTON -- Officials gathered in the Winton Water and Sanitary District headquarters Thursday to discuss a touchy issue that has already hit the pocketbooks of residents, and could go further.

District officials are upset because Atwater leaders are having a new multi-million dollar wastewater treatment plant built to expand growth in their city, but the cost is being spread to Winton and Castle Commerce Center, which also use the plant.

Some question whether the new plant is necessary at all, claiming the old site could've been retrofitted to meet stricter purity standards set by the state, which prompted the project.

Because of disagreements and Winton users feeling victimized by Atwater, district officials began to look into building their own plant.

Wastewater rates in Atwater have already gone through substantial increases, and Winton building its own plant could have an impact on both revenue and rates for Atwater users. The plant was designed to have enough capacity for Winton users.

During Thursday's meeting, district directors discussed a recent study showing that rates charged to users in the Winton Water and Sanitary District are too high.

Atwater City Manager Kathy Kivley spoke during the meeting, but was unable to give comment on the report.

"We have not completed our review of the study," she said, repeating several times that she's "only been on the job 100 working days."

The report doesn't implicate that Atwater has done anything illegal, but focuses on what rates would be fair for certain users. Kivley said it'll take more time for her to analyze the findings.

"I'm not trying to side-step anything," she said during the meeting. "I'm just trying to be straight with you."

After a long span of poor communication, officials from both sides had made progress in December when they met to discuss the proposed Winton plant and regional planning issues. Some new faces in Atwater leadership have helped the progress along.

District directors thought Thursday's meeting built on that.

Carol Bonin, district board president, thought Kivley was genuine in her efforts to improve the way both parties interact.

"I think she is (sincere)," Bonin said. "She's new at it, so it's going to take her a little bit of time to go through the reports to get information."

Still, there's work to be done.

Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, who oversees the community of Winton, said the issue needs to be resolved before the new Atwater plant becomes operational in February as expected.

"The city of Atwater has had this problem going for a long time and they refuse to come to terms with it," she said, adding that Winton claims that they're being overcharged by $100,000 a month and that they're owed an additional $2 million.

Despite improved communication, the Winton Water and Sanitary District is still looking into building its own plant, and has bought property that could potentially serve as a site for it.

Officials are still in the planning stages.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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