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BROOKTRAILS TOWNSHIP NEWS


What You Need to Know about the Willits Wastewater Treatment Plant Dispute

Updated November 2014

    The Brooktrails Township is a California public agency committed to honoring its contracts with others and complying with the Constitutions and laws of the United States and the State of California. The Brooktrails Township expects others, particularly other public agencies, to share that commitment. By doing so, we all avoid the costs and stress associated with court proceedings. 

    Since 1997 the Brooktrails Township has been asking - and then insisting - that the City of Willits honor a contract providing for the allocation of operating costs for the Wastewater Treatment Plant.  Since 2005 the Brooktrails Township has been asking - and then insisting - that the City of Willits honor a contract providing for the allocation of construction costs for the new Wastewater Treatment Plant. Since 2013 the Brooktrails Township has been asking that the City of Willits new Wastewater Treatment Plant be brought into compliance with federal and state laws in order to avoid polluting the groundwater and surface waters of the Little Lake Valley.

    Thirteen years after the dispute started in 1997, Brooktrails filed a lawsuit seeking declaratory relief from the failure of the City of Willits to honor the contract.

    The contract compliance issues involve millions of dollars.  Those millions of dollars represent per customer sewer service charges totaling at least $24.50 per month continuing for decades as follows:

  • The City is demanding that Brooktrails ratepayers pay at least $7.25 a month to subsidize wastewater treatment
    plant operating costs that should be borne by City ratepayers pursuant to the contract.
  • The City is demanding that Brooktrails ratepayers pay at least $9.50 a month to subsidize wastewater treatment
    plant construction loan costs that should be borne by City ratepayers pursuant to the contract.
  • The City has taken wastewater treatment plant capacity previously purchased by Brooktrails as capacity "exclusive" to Brooktrails; this has created the possibility of a shifting of costs from vacant lot owners to current Brooktrails ratepayers amounting to a rate of at least $7.75 a month.

    Acceptance of the policies establishing these long-term costs also would determine how future wastewater treatment plant repair and capital improvement costs would be distributed to Brooktrails ratepayers.

    The dispute is complex but others have tried to succinctly summarize it. The Local Agency Formation Commission of Mendocino County in its November 2014 Public Review Draft of the City of Willits Municipal Service Review states:

"On September 11, 1967 the City of Willits (City) and the Brooktrails Resort Improvement District – now the Brooktrails Township Community Services District (District) entered into an agreement allowing the District to dispose of up to 0.49 mgd ADWF of sewage into the City WWTF.

"The Agreement has been amended over the years: Amendment No. 2 in 1975 (which also repealed Amendment No. 1); Amendment No. 3 in 1982; and Amendment No. 3 in 2007. In 1997, a dispute arose between the District and the City regarding the allocation of operating costs for the WWTF. This dispute, along with several other issues has been ongoing for the past 17-years. In 2010, the District filed a lawsuit in Mendocino County Superior Court seeking declaratory relief regarding a number of issues, including metering to measure the flow of sewage, accounting methods and allocation of operating costs, annual audits, WWTF construction costs and plant capacity, and disposal of treated effluent.

"The degree of time and energy devoted to this situation is best reflected in the respective meeting agendas of the City and the District, as at practically every regular and special meeting there is a closed session on this litigation. There does not appear to be any resolution of these issues in the foreseeable future. As the District said in a report to its ratepayers in June 2014: 'Township officials in 1997 did not believe litigation was the best option for the region. As it turns out, it has been made clear after 17 years that the only way all four components of the dispute can be resolved is through an ‘independent adjudicator, be it judge, jury or arbitrator,’ as the [then] City Attorney threatened in 1997.'”

    In October, this was written in the Anderson Valley Advertiser:

"THE DISPUTE BEGAN WITH accounting questions back in 1997 and culminated in a lawsuit in 2010 after Brooktrails was unable to get the City of Willits to comply with the with the terms of their agreements. The main focus of the dispute now is that Willits expects Brooktrails to pay for treatment capacity at the new plant that is needed to treat sewage from Willits. Brooktrails is willing to give up treatment capacity that it is entitled to, but only if Willits will agree to pro-rate the treatment plant construction costs based on the flow that each party contributes to the plant. Willits is supposed to meter the flow but the meter quit working in 2002 and Willits never replaced it with a meter capable of accurately measuring the amount of flow that each party contribute."

A Full Explanation of the Dispute is Available

As always, the Brooktrails Township provides an updated full explanation of the dispute on line with extensive supporting documentation. Use the link below to be fully informed.

A complete explanation of the Brooktrails viewpoint as of November 2014 is available here


Summary of Recent Dispute-Related Occurrences

   Three recent occurrences seem to be related.

    At its August 5, 2014 meeting the Brooktrails Township Board of Directors adopted a resolution expressing a concern that a large volume of partially treated sewage from the Willits sewage treatment plant is percolating directly into the groundwater in the Little Lake Valley. About 20% of this sewage is from Brooktrails homes and businesses. The concern is the potential impact on our neighbors in the Little Lake Valley who depend upon wells for their water.

    Brooktrails had raised the issue in April 2013 based upon anecdotal reports and subsequent data gathered by a local state-licensed engineering/hydrogeology business showing that in excess of 100,000,000 million gallons per year of sewage entered the sewage treatment plant but seemed to disappear in the ponds associated with the plant, probably percolating into the groundwater.

    You can read more about this problem and the Brooktrails effort to get it corrected here 

   The second related recent occurrence was the receipt of a September 17, 2014, letter from the Willits Mayor to the Brooktrails Board President insinuating that the local engineering/hydrogeology business mentioned above at the behest of Brooktrails officials engaged in "a planned mission, attempting to lay a trap with the hope that City staff would violate its permit and accept diesel fuel mischaracterized as septage." It was, of course, not true.

    The letter was written less than eight weeks before the upcoming election. The Willits-area engineering/hydrogeology business which has an unsullied reputation is providing professional engineering services to many local private clients. The City had not made the letter public. Brooktrails did not respond.

    Unfortunately, the City Manager at the October 28, 2014, Brooktrails Board of Director's meeting insisted the letter be made public and that the Brooktrails Board President respond.

    You can download the letter exchange as well as a review of the incident by another engineer (it is a large PDF file with functional links to state websites). As noted in Board President William's letter to Mayor Madrigal: "The Brooktrails Board is choosing to not take offense at the accusations in your final paragraph in the spirit of needed regional unity."

    The third seemingly related occurrence was the presentation of an Agenda Summary Report, Item No. 9e (1) for the November 12, 2014 Willits City Council meeting. In it November 14, 2014, edition  The Willits News offered this report:

"Adding fuel to the already hot conflict between Willits and Brooktrails, was Willits confirmation at the Nov. 12 council meeting that its flow meter measuring the total flow of sewage into the new plant was built wrong.

"Brooktrails advised the city in July 2013 it considered the new meter to be inaccurate. The city took no action. In October 2013 Brooktrails had its contractor inspect the meter.

"In April 2014, Brooktrails provided the city with copies of the inspection showing the meter had a number of installation flaws, according to [City Attorney James] Lance.

"The city took no action.

"In July 2014, after the city sent Brooktrails a bill for payment (based on the faulty meter) Brooktrails requested a copy of the calibration records for the meter in question. Willits contacted a meter calibration firm which advised the city there were problems it had found in October 2013. The firm, MCC Control Systems, confirmed the problem areas in August 2014. One problem, a programming error, was corrected in September 2014. The other involving the improper installation of the meter, was not discovered during the original installation by Speiss Construction Company in 2009.

"Lance suggested the city contact Speiss to have the problem corrected.

"Until the installation error is corrected the city expects to use the meter leaving the plant to determine flow rates through the plant."

    The Agenda Report and City staff have asked for a response from Brooktrails. The Brooktrails General Manager sent a letter to the City Manager pointing out that both the sewer plant's permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Agreement between the City and Brooktrails require a correctly functioning meter measuring the sewage influent as it enters plant, as well as any meter measuring the effluent as it leaves the plant. That meter combination allows federal and state regulators to determine wastewater losses from the various storage ponds. In the General Manager's letter it was noted Brooktrails will be providing engineering recommendations regarding the metering of influent.

    A fourth recent occurrence which was mentioned in our website June 2014 Report was the filing on November 10, 2014, of a new cause of action by Brooktrails related to the above mentioned taking of Brooktrails purchased exclusive wastewater treatment plant capacity. Simply, contrary to the project's Environmental Impact Report the new sewage treatment plant was designed with less capacity than the old plant leaving insufficient capacity for City customers after deducting the Brooktrails-owned exclusive capacity.

   Brooktrails pointed this problem out to the City in the Spring of 2013 but was reluctant to file the action in court because if successful it would impose a moratorium on new sewer connections in the City. However, because of the new water connection moratorium ordered by the State (see below), the effect on the City would be minimal particularly since Brooktrails has suggested the new matter be combined with the existing lawsuit so that legal expenses would be reduced. And the City could address both the water supply and sewage treatment capacity issues within the same time period.



LITTLE LAKE VALLEY REGION WATER
CONNECTION MORATORIUM ORDERED


BECAUSE OF THE IMPACT OF THE STATEWIDE DROUGHT ON THE EEL RIVER, AS OF OCTOBER 17, 2014 AN ORDER ESTABLISHING A MORATORIUM ON NEW WATER CONNECTIONS HAS BEEN ISSUED BY THE STATE WATER RESOURCES CONTROL BOARD TO ALL THE MUNICIPAL WATER PROVIDERS AROUND THE LITTLE LAKE VALLY INCLUDING BROOKTRAILS TOWNSHIP, THE CITY OF WILLITS, AND PINE MOUNTAIN MUTUAL WATER COMPANY. (COPIES OF THE ORDERS MAY BE DOWNLOADED FROM THE STATE WEB SITE WHICH INDICATES AN ADDITIONAL 19 OTHER WATER SYSTEMS AROUND THE STATE RECEIVED SUCH ORDERS.)

THE BROOKTRAILS ORDER ALSO CAN BE VIEWED HERE . FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT US.

A WATER EMERGENCY HAS BEEN DECLARED

A water emergency has been declared in the Brooktrails Township limiting water use by each Brooktrails water customer. As of September 10, 2014, the limit has been revised to 170 gallons per day or 5,100 per month.

To help our community save water, visit our links to useful water conservation information.


BROOKTRAILS 2013 CONSUMER CONFIDENCE REPORT ON DRINKING WATER QUALITY


Upcoming Recreation, Greenbelt, and Conservation Committee Meeting Agenda


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