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Purple pipe now paid for 9 years after 350 jobs were in jeopardy

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POSTED April 19, 2009 3:06 a.m.
The Eckert’s pipeline project was arguably one of the most ingenious and profitable decisions ever to come from Manteca’s City Hall as a result of a threat from the state to pull the plug on 350 private sector jobs.

The food processing and cold storage operation on Moffat Boulevard in November of 2000 was sending 500,000 gallons of wastewater a day to the treatment plant from its process of washing red, green, and yellow bell peppers for processing for firms that make pizzas. An inordinate amount of red peppers was playing havoc at the treatment plant prompting the city to exceed acceptable nitrate levels and create a potential lethal situation for fish swimming near the city’s outlet for treated wastewater on the San Joaquin River.

The solution was to build a purple pipeline from the Eckert’s plant down Moffat, along the Highway 120 Bypass to a point west of Airport Way and up to the wastewater treatment plant where the nitrate laden water would be disposed on surplus land for crops  that thrive off nitrates. Unless the city could reduce the nitrates, Eckert’s would be forced to close costing 350 Manteca private sector jobs. Eckert’s couldn’t afford the $1.2 million tab for the pipeline.

The housing boom was underway and sewer capacity was running out at the treatment plant. So developers – working in conjunction with city staff -  hatched a plan to have the capacity used by Eckert’s shifted to residential uses in exchange for developers fronting the $1.2 million to build the line plus give another $2.3 million in bonus bucks – development agreement fees paid in exchange for sewer allocation certainty. The water, basically harmless for land disposal, would no longer flow into the treatment plant.

Those bonus bucks made it possible to complete the Union Road fire station, build the skate park, and install traffic signals at two Tidewater crossings – one on Louise Avenue and the other on Northgate Drive.

It was viewed as a win-win situation with an overlay fee on new home construction that happened as a result of the additional capacity to pay $1.2 million to build the pipeline and a holding pond at the treatment plant.

It freed up plant capacity forever to accommodate 1,853 single family homes.

The Manteca City Council on Tuesday is being asked to adopt a resolution rescinding the overlay fee now that the pipeline is paid for in its entirety.

There is one little interesting detail. The pipeline has never been used for its intended purpose. The following year, Eckert’s reworked its process to pre-treat the water and reduce red peppers that were the cause of most of the problem.

The city moved forward with the project while awaiting state approval. It didn’t get the final OK to use the purple pipe until 2006. The pipe hasn’t seen any significant use.

Although it may all seem for naught, the city now has a backbone in place to transport treated water along the Highway 120 Bypass corridor for landscaping as well as to potentially put in place spurs to nearby heavy water users such as Woodward Park, the new Spreckels Recreation Park, as well as other parks and large expanses of lawn at schools.

Treated water will also be used one day to irrigate the Big League Dreams sports complex and nearby shopping center landscaping. Purple pipe for that is also in place.

The only problem is the state had yet to give the green light for using treated wastewater in such a manner. The application is still being held up in the state review process.
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