Who would have dreamed that saving the Carmel River could be so lucrative?
The Regional Desal Project may be stalled by litigation and lack of a financing plan, but the desal gravy train isn’t slowing down a bit.
The economy may be bad for most of us, but not for those who give a boost to the Regional Desal Project. Let’s start with RMC Water. They were well paid to prepare the EIR for the project – a document the law requires to be a neutral examination of potential impacts. After producing a favorable EIR, they then received a no-bid $28 million dollar contract to run the project. But don’t worry. We’re sure the prospect of receiving $28 million dollars didn’t affect their ability to analyze the project’s impacts in an unbiased way.
Then there’s public servant Steve Collins. As a member of the board of the Monterey County Water Resources Agency, Steve became one of the project’s most enthusiastic promoters – selflessly volunteering his time to help the Monterey Peninsula find a solution to its water problems … except, of course, for the fact that, unknown to practically everyone, he was also being paid by RMC. Paid something in the neighborhood of $150,000 for less than a year of, presumably, part-time work. No economic slow-down there!
And now comes news that the Surfrider Foundation, an organization whose work to protect beaches and the ocean we’ve long admired, will be reimbursed $285,818.23 for their work on the project. As near as we can tell, what they did was to prepare an economic analysis of alternatives (why, exactly, an organization whose primary work is to advocate for clean beaches and surfing spots would be tapped to perform an economic analysis of industrial plant siting isn’t clear), attend various meetings and, probably most importantly, lend their hard earned environmental credibility to the project by signing off on the operating agreement. We guess that economic analysis must have been really, really thorough … or something. $285,818.23?
Meanwhile, the Ag Land Trust’s lawsuit over whether the project even has the right to pump water, has brought work on test wells to a standstill. This suit, which we are continually assured will be quickly settled (Water Resources Agency general manager Curtis Weeks predicted in mid-March, for example, that the suit would be settled in less than a month) continues to move forward. Early this month, the Sixth District Court of Appeals rejected the Marina Coast Water District’s appeal of a local judge’s refusal to dismiss the case.
And now the Board of Supervisors is getting cross over the lack of a financing plan for the project (interestingly – and perhaps coincidentally – while little is known about exactly what Steve Collins did to earn $150,000 from RMC, his work is said to have included preparing a financing plan for the project). In spite of the Board approving (in early March) another $186,000 to complete the financing plan, the end of April deadline the Board set will be missed and we hear rumors that lenders are proving less than enthusiastic about the project.
Maybe it’s the litigation giving the lenders cold feet. Maybe it’s the fact that everyone else in the state and world seems to be able to produce desalted water so much more cost effectively. Maybe they’re worried that RMC’s contract to run the project could turn out to be void under Government Code section 1090 (under Government Code section 1090 if a member of a board that makes a contract – whether the member votes or not – has a financial interest in the contract, the contract may be void). Maybe they’re shocked and repulsed by the way so many individuals and organizations are taking advantage of the State Water Resources Control Board’s cease and desist order to shake down the Cal-Am ratepayers (well, alright, it’s probably not that – but it should be).
Whatever the reasons, while the project may currently be all but dead in the water, it’s nice to know there’s been no slowdown in the benefits to its supporters. And we’re sure the ratepayers of the Monterey Peninsula are overjoyed to have the opportunity to provide so much richly deserved compensation to those working so tirelessly to solve the Peninsula’s water problems.