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July 17, 2002
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Bill Orton at (562) 598-9630
Sewage district to 'Stop the Waiver,' after Board hands environmentalists historic victory      By Bill Orton
(FOUNTAIN VALLEY, CA.) -- In a fit-for-Hollywood climax, directors of the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) voted by 13-to-11 to end that agency's controversial waiver of federal clean water laws, spelling doom to the underwater plume of sewage that some officials compared to "Jaws" and which has earned "thumbs-down" reviews for the county's tourism reputation.
"It's like that shark," said Fullerton City Councilman Don Bankhead, one of the local elected officials serving on the 25-city sanitation district board. "It's driving people away from our beaches."
For two years, environmental activists have hammered away at the OCSD's board and staff, charging that the district was causing dire-but-unprovable health problems by pumping 243 million gallons of inadequately-treated sewage into the Pacific Ocean each day.
Sanitation officials contend that the controversial federal waiver is necessary it would take at least 11 years for the OCSD to boost the level of treatment for all the wastewater that flows into the system's sewers. Right now, roughly half of the 243 million gallons is given "primary" treatment and the other half receives the higher level of primary and "secondary" treatment.
Environmental organizers want the OCSD to provide primary and secondary treatment to all sewage the district handles.
With public testimony that included world surfing legend Sean Thompson, poetry and closing arguments from groups including the Surfrider Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council and Ocean Outfall Group, anti-waiver kept up the final dose of pressure in an effort that few imagined would produce the historic victory.
"It's no secret that [OCSD] staff wants the waiver," said Seal Beach Councilwoman Patty Campbell, three hours into the Board's meeting.
After hearing from the public, board members debated for more than two hours. While calm, the back-and-forth among Board members showed a gulf between those for or against the waiver.
"We've got to do what is right for the folks," said Orange City Councilman Mike Alvarez.
"We need to focus on what is really causing the problems and that's urban runoff," said Tustin Councilman Tony Kawashima, who grew up in Huntington Beach.
"To say the plume has nothing to do with [getting people sick] is like Philip Morris saying cigarettes don't cause cancer," said SB's Campbell.
Campbell slammed OCSD staff for what she called "an 11th hour attempt to throw a monkee wrench" into the Board's deliberations, when concerns were raised about potential fines the district might absorb.
Exacerbated by a particularly long legal answer to one of her questions, Irvine Councilwoman Beth Krom broke in saying, "Aside from that making no sense...."
Ultimately, after nearly four hours, Orange County Supervisor Tom Wilson -- an opponent of the waiver -- called for a roll-call vote on the motion by Brian Brady, of the Irvine Ranch Water District.
A string of "aye" votes followed by a spate of "nays," until finally it came to Paul Walker, of La Palma, which is one of the smallest of the 25 cities in the OCSD.
"The city of La Palma votes yes," said Walker amidst loud applause, giving the 13th vote needed to secure an absolute majority of the 25-member Board.
Under terms of the Brady motion, the district will aim for the secondary treatment "standards" laid out by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Among those present throughout nearly five hours were Assembly candidate Bill Orton (D-Seal Beach); Steamfitters Local 250 Business Agent Terry Martin, whose workers hope to build the public works projects needed to upgrade the OCSD's facilities; Huntington Beach Planning Commissioner and city council candidate Jill Hardy, and legendary world surfing champion Shaun Thompson.
Orton, an opponent of the waiver who has laid out a $100-million plan to fund clean up along the region's coastline and rivers, made a bee-line to Thompson at the close of the hearing.
"Wow, you were my brother's absolute idol," said Orton reverentially, as he got Thompson's autograph for his brother, who now lives in Newport Beach.
For more information about Orton's campaign, visit his website at http://billyorton.com.
BILL ORTON is the Democratic candidate for State Assembly in the 67th District, which covers Cypress, Huntington Beach, La Palma, Los Alamitos, Rossmoor, Seal Beach, and portions of Anaheim, Garden Grove, Stanton and Westminster.
FPPC ID# 1240194