ATWATER -- For the next 30 years Atwater residents will be paying off the city's new wastewater treatment plant through their bills, but they could pay even more than projected if Merced County ends up building a similar plant in the area.
Atwater is planning to break ground next week on its $41 million wastewater treatment plant, which the city must build to comply with state and federal regulations. The actual cost of that facility over the life of its bonds will be about $150 million to $175 million, including building costs and debt service, city officials have projected.
Atwater built its financing plan based on the revenue it expects to receive from residents in Atwater and Winton, Castle Commerce Center and U.S. Penitentiary Atwater, all of which use the city's current treatment plant. If in the future some of those entities elect not to use the city's service, those who do will likely have to pay more to cover the costs.
News that the county is pondering a wastewater treatment facility to serve Castle Commerce Center and the community of Winton came as a surprise to Atwater officials.
Bob Smith, director of special programs in the county's planning department, said the county pursued a study to examine the feasibility of a wastewater treatment plant in that area because at the time the county was concerned Atwater's existing plant did not have the capacity to handle the full development of Castle and Winton. The study was completed in May 2007.
Atwater's Assistant City Manager Stan Feathers, however, said Atwater began planning for its new plant about four years ago, which would have been before the county finished its study. Nevertheless, Smith said the county didn't officially learn of Atwater's plans until it was notified in May 2008 that Atwater had completed environmental studies required by the state for the project.
Smith examined and commented on Atwater's environmental documents, noting the county's concern that Atwater would be able to handle future development at Castle, but he didn't mention the county's efforts to determine the same thing. Smith said that's because he was unaware of the 2007 county study at the time.
The county proceeded with its own environmental study to determine the cost and impact of putting a wastewater treatment plant in the area. That study is due to be completed in April or May, Smith said.
He added the county will go forward with its study despite Atwater's plant, "so we can examine what makes the most sense, continuing to be connected to the city of Atwater or constructing our own treatment plant.
"I think that it's important to recognize that the county's intention is not to undermine the city of Atwater's wastewater treatment plant at all," Smith said.
Reporter Amy Starnes can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.