Sewage facilities need expensive upgrade

January 14, 2009 12:00:08 AM PST
Sewage treatment facilities on the peninsula are in need of a $400 million upgrade and that means southern peninsula cities from Belmont to Portola Valley are expected to find a way to pay for them. In Belmont, the City Council voted to take the first step toward upgrades, but taxpayers there are concerned about the hefty price tag.

The South Bayside System Authority is aging. The sewage treatment plant hasn't had an upgrade in 27 years and that worries plant manager Dan Child.

"The possibility of a potential spill or failure of our system exists. It's high. I can't predict when, I hope it doesn't happen, but that's what we're trying to prevent," said Dan Child, a SBSA manager.

Preventing the worst case scenario of raw sewage seeping into the bay will require a $400 million overhaul. Peninsula cities will split the cost with Belmont footing $40 million of that bill. Analysts recommend raising sewer rates.

"My concerns are for the residents and the businesses, how much will it cost, and can they afford it," said Coralin Feierbach, a Belmont city councilmember.

The Belmont City Council is considering raising a homeowner's annual fee from $400 to $650. Laundromat owners could pay more than $6,000 a year and restaurant owners could face a $1,400 sewage bill.

"Considering it's going to be taking place at exactly the same time as the economy going down and our business declining across the board in our industry. Not the best time to be raising our rates," said Kevin McCluskey, from Caprino's Restaurant.

"I don't want to pay anymore taxes on something like this," said Robin Page, a resident.

But some taxpayers would rather pay now, than face the possible consequences.

"I don't love the idea, but I realize it's probably a necessity," said Stephanie Moody, a resident.

"If they need to improve it, they need to improve it," said Margaret Jadallah, a resident.

Redwood City and San Carlos are already on board with the rate hike. As for Belmont, it now goes for public comment and a possible return to city council for a final vote in April.