By Karen Brainard
A dispute between a Ramona property owner and the Ramona Municipal Water District over fees connected to grease buildup in a sewer line has a consumer advocacy group involved.
“I just wanted to let you know we’re going to be here. We’re going to be attending board meetings,” Charles Langley, publisher and director of marketing for Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN), told water board members at their Dec. 11 meeting.
Langley and David Peffer, UCAN attorney, appeared at the meeting with Eugene Plantier, the owner of property at 109 10th St. Plantier leases the building at that site to the operators of the Mariscos Mar De Cortez Mexican seafood restaurant.
The water district has asked Plantier to pay $33,755 for additional sewer EDUs (equivalent dwelling units) to bring the 10th Street property into compliance with the RMWD legislative code, and to obtain a waste discharge permit. Plantier, a Poway resident, has owned the property since 1998 and is fighting the fees.
The water board agreed to waive $96,400 in mitigation fees for the additional EDUs.
Peffer, in a letter to the board, said RMWD’s EDU-based wastewater rate structure violates California law and the grease dumping allegations are false.
“This whole grease issue is essentially a red herring,” Peffer said. “This is about re-mitigation. This is about the shakedown of yet another small business in Ramona.”
Peffer added that he will be keeping a close eye on this issue.
RMWD staff reported that during its bi-yearly maintenance sewer cleaning inspection on March 23, it found significant amounts of grease within the recently installed sewer main on 10th Street. The 8-inch sewer line was added as part of the improvement project at 1018 A St. Staff used closed circuit TV to see where the grease was coming from and said upon reaching the restaurant property’s sewer lateral connection, it was obvious that the grease was coming from that location.
At the Nov. 13 RMWD meeting, district staff showed a photo of a grease trap located next to the sewer cleanout, along with a can on a stick, suggesting the can was used to take grease out of the trap and put it into the sewer.
Plantier, however, maintained that the restaurant has a service that cleans the grease trap interceptor every two weeks.
Peffer produced copies of receipts from the sanitation company that removes the grease, dating back to March 16. The restaurant opened in February, he stated in the letter to the board.
According to RMWD staff, large amounts of grease would require additional staff time to monitor and clean the sewer, and chunks of grease can block flow, cause overflow, and can clog pumps at the Santa Maria Wastewater Reclamation Plant.
District Engineer Mike Metts told the board in November that the property has two EDUs, but based on current code, it would require 6.82 EDUs. To add the extra 4.82 EDUs, the district calculated it would cost Plantier $33,755.18 in sewer connection and service fees. The water district also charges $20,000 per EDU mitigation fees for customers in the Santa Maria sewer district. Metts and the board’s Undocumented EDU Ad Hoc Subcommittee recommended waiving the mitigation fees, totaling $96,400, because the property already had a restaurant when the mitigation fee was set.
Director Kit Kesinger disagreed with “gifting” the EDUs.
“I have a problem with giving away a water district asset which is an EDU,” he said at the November board meeting.
The board voted on staff’s five recommendations, breaking them into three separate motions.
The majority of directors voted to waive the $96,400 mitigation fee with Kesinger voting no.
The board unanimously passed a motion to require Plantier to obtain a waste discharge permit to continue discharging into the sewer system, and to bill him for actual costs of cleaning the sewer main if he fails to comply with the permit requirements.
By a vote of 4-0-1, the board agreed to deny the property owner’s request to forgive the $33,755.18 for connection and service fees for additional
EDUs, and require he pay that amount. Director Red Hager abstained from the vote. RMWD code allows customers to pay such fees over four years.