Desal plant moves closer to Coastal Commission hearing

Poseidon Resources' desalination plant application is one step closer to being approved after a state agency deemed it complete, officials said.

The Stamford, Conn.-based company's application was completed June 6. Poseidon is looking at an October or November hearing before the California Coastal Commission.

Though the application is in the pipeline, commission staff waived necessary information to make the document sufficient for filing. Poseidon is still required to submit that information before the fall hearing.

"We haven't gotten all the information that we requested and that our regulations require," said Tom Luster, a staff environmental scientist for the Coastal Commission. "In order to move this forward and let the commission review and make a decision, we agreed to deem it complete and get it to them."

One area commission staff waived was the proof of legal interest. That means that cities and parties impacted by the project need to provide documentation that they approve.

Since Poseidon is planning on building on the AES power plant site, installing new pipelines in Huntington Beach and accessing existing pipes within Costa Mesa, the company needs the proof of interest from all three parties, according to the June 6 notice written by Luster to Poseidon Vice President Scott Maloni.

Commission staff also waived the requirement of providing information regarding alternative water intakes.

Poseidon plans to use AES's open-water intake pipe, but commission staff has asked them to report on other alternatives that are less impactful to sea life, like subsurface intakes that draw water from underneath the ocean floor, using the sand like a natural filter, Luster said.

Luster said Poseidon has given commission staff information regarding the alternative intake, but the studies have been from other locations, like the groundwater wells in Orange County and the subsurface intakes off Japan's shores, but not for the proposed site in Huntington Beach.

"They've provided information but it's not applicable to the site," Luster said.

Maloni said they'll be working with commission staff over the summer to "perfect the permit" before it reaches the hearing.

"There will be a marine life mitigation plan and a greenhouse gas plan," he said. "We provided all of those plans and proposed conditions, so we'll work with staff on that."

Having submitted their application in 2006, Maloni is happy to see the project moving forward.

"We're truly excited about this milestone," he said. "It's not only important to Poseidon and the Orange County water community, it's also important to the entire desalination industry. This will be the second large-scale desal plant the Coastal Commission has had the chance to review."

Desal opponent Debbie Cook, a former Huntington Beach mayor, has been fighting against the proposed plant for nearly a decade and is glad to see that the permit is finally being heard by the commission.

"We want the Coastal Commission to hear this blasted project," she said. "There's an awful lot of damning information about Poseidon now. They've only gotten three agencies to renew their letters of interest. Three agencies out of 17. That's hardly enough interest to move forward with this project."

Cook said she has always looked at other alternative water sources, like better conservation efforts and treating recycled water, and doesn't believe desalinated water is the route to take.

"If we want to raise water rates, go ahead and raise water rates," she said. "But don't do it by wasting billions of dollars."

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