Curb on Fiesta Island Sludge Dumping Urged

Times Staff Writer

San Diego Councilman Bruce Henderson, saying he was "issuing an eviction order" to the sewage sludge drying beds on Fiesta Island, Thursday proposed forcing the city to pay $1 million annually to improve Mission Bay and its surroundings until the sludge beds are removed.

The city's Water Utilities Department, which under the proposed agreement would vacate the island by 1995, has also agreed to withdraw an application to expand the 130-acre sludge beds by 10 acres unless it faces an emergency, according to Henderson and city officials.

"The Coastal Commission has made it clear, and I'm making it clear, that Fiesta Island is no longer going to be available to take care of San Diego's sludge problem," Henderson said in a news conference held on a Fiesta Island plot that was to be part of the 10-acre sludge bed expansion.

However, a Sierra Club representative said that six years is far too long to wait for removal of the beds from Fiesta Island, which is considered a potentially prime piece of Mission Bay parkland.

"This is condemning Mission Bay to continue being, for perhaps as long as the next six years, San Diego's toilet," said Alan Sakarias, chairman of the Sierra Club's conservation committee.

Equipment Being Tested

"They can commit to a (new) site next month if they want to," Sakarias added. "Then it would be a matter of working out the logistics."

Henderson suggested that the sludge beds could be eliminated sooner than 1995 if the city builds a sewage processing plant instead of relocating the beds. If advanced "dewatering equipment" now being tested by the city proves successful, 30 acres of sludge beds could be removed within a year, he said.

The city began drying sewage sludge on Fiesta Island on a "temporary" basis in 1964. In 1981, the California Coastal Commission granted the city a 30-acre expansion of its sludge-drying operation but ordered it off the island by January, 1987.

The city has since won four more extensions of the deadline, the most recent of which gives it until April to remove the beds.

City sewer officials had hoped to move the sludge beds to Miramar Naval Air Station, but the need to conduct a full environmental impact study has delayed the transfer, said Deputy City Manager Roger Frauenfelder. A consultant is now looking at that site and at least seven alternatives, including the Marron Valley near the Mexican border and Sycamore Canyon east of Miramar, Frauenfelder said.

Sludge is the thick, malodorous residue left over after waste water is treated. It is piped to Fiesta Island for drying, then hauled to the Tijuana River Valley, where a private firm uses it to grow sod.

Henderson called the $1 million annual payments "incentive" to the Water Utilities department to move the sludge beds and suggested that the payments might be increased each year. However, Frauenfelder said that City Manager John Lockwood's office has not agreed to an annual fee increase.

The department now pays the city $386,000 in rent for using the island.

Under Henderson's plan, the $1-million payments would be spent to build a parking center--and later a parking garage--on the 40-acre Mission Bay site once proposed for a new hotel; road improvements in Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Bay Park; a new paint job for Mission Bay High School; a proposed breakwater for Mission Bay; and storm drain odor control measures in Rose Creek and along Mission Bay Drive.

The funds would come largely from a $600,000 annual surplus now in the Water Utilities budget. However, the payments may require a small increase in sewer fees paid by the 15 cities that are members of the metropolitan sewer system. A fee increase would require their approval.

The Water Utilities Department has agreed to withdraw its application, made last month, to expand the sludge-drying beds by 10 acres but would be allowed to reapply in the event that an above-average winter rainfall made more drying space necessary, Frauenfelder said.

The deal requires approval by the San Diego City Council and the Coastal Commission, but David Malcolm, the Chula Vista city councilman who represents San Diego on the Coastal Commission, assured reporters that all agencies involved are ready to approve it.

"Bruce has put together something more than just a proposal," Malcolm said.

"We view it as fair," Frauenfelder said. "I feel pretty confident that we're going to be able to get off" Fiesta Island by 1995, he added.

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