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Lathrop raises stink over name of sewer plant

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POSTED August 4, 2009 12:49 a.m.


LATHROP – What’s in a name?


Plenty, if you ask Lathrop Councilman Robert Oliver about the Manteca wastewater treatment plant on West Yosemite Avenue.


A rose, by any other name, would smell just as sweet, according to the great bard of “Romeo and Juliet” fame.


But that notion apparently does not apply when the object of contention is the Manteca Wastewater Treatment Plant.


Or, as Oliver prefers to call it, the Manteca-Lathrop Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant with emphasis on the word “regional.”


Oliver raised the stink on what is the proper name to call the sewer facility located on West Yosemite Avenue between the ACE train station to the north and Big League Dreams to the south during a study session of the Lathrop City Council Tuesday last week. During a discussion on wastewater facilities serving the city of Lathrop, Oliver said the one in Manteca “is really a regional plant, not a City of Manteca plant.”


He reiterated that belief during a follow-up telephone interview: “That’s what it is – it’s the Lathrop-Manteca Regional Treatment Plant.”


By referring to the sewer plant in Lathrop by that name, Oliver said he simply wants to make it clear to those who “don’t know the history” of the plant’s construction and think that Lathrop is just “freeloading (because) they are under the impression it’s the Manteca plant and Lathrop is using their facility.”


The simple fact, he said, is that Lathrop owns, and is paying for, 14.7 percent of the treatment plant’s total capacity. For the genesis of that part of the story, Oliver deferred to former two-time Lathrop mayor and current Planning Commission chairman Bennie Gatto who was there when this cooperative venture between the two cities was put in place.


“I don’t know if the state had ever qualified it as a regional plant or if they still call it the Manteca Wastewater Plant,” Gatto said in response to the nomenclature question.


“I’m not positive if it’s called that. I know, at one time I heard it over and over that, yes, it was a regional plant. And it’s a good possibility because no matter how many times they expand (the treatment plant), we still are entitled to 14.7 percent of the capacity. We paid for it,” Gatto said.


Lathrop residents have the great flood of 1983 to thank for that 14.7 percent share of sewer capacity in the Manteca plant.


Big flood of 1983 caused
stinky mess in Lathrop,Raising concerns from
county health officials


It all started in the “big flood of ’83,” Gatto recalled.


That was six years before Lathrop officially became an incorporated city. Many of the roughly 5,000 people who lived in the then-unincorporated town of San Joaquin County were on septic tank. Compounding the flooding problem was the fact Lathrop has a high water table, a situation that inhibits or slows down water drainage when flooding occurs. In a section of the Old Town District between Fifth and Seventh streets where the Gattos live, for example, the water table is just 38 inches below the ground.


“We had a lot of flooding in the whole area, and the county got worried because all of the septic tanks were being flooded out. That’s when they (county officials) came up with the option of going to the Manteca sewer plant and making an assessment district in Lathrop. That’s where the 14.7 percent capacity came into Lathrop,” Gatto explained.


Lathrop started getting sewer service from the Manteca plant in 1986, he said.


“That’s when they put all the sewer lines and pumping stations in. Everything flowed into the pumping station on J Street and then pumped to the treatment plant in Manteca,” he said.


From J Street, the sewer pipeline went underneath the railroad tracks on Seventh Street, on to the South San Joaquin Irrigation District drainage ditch, down the drainage ditch levee, then on to the treatment plant on West Yosemite Avenue.


“Each homeowner was assessed $330 per ISU; some people opted to put it on their taxes for 30 y ears or pay directly every month,” Gatto said.
An ISU was the equivalent of 250 gallons a day per household.


Paying the $330 annual assessment was one thing; forking out the money to get a home connected to the main sewer pipeline was something else, explained Gatto. Their connection bill, for example, came up to $1,700. And that’s nothing compared to what the city charges for the same service today, he said.


“We had to bring the line out from the street to our house. The LCWD (Lathrop County Water District which was the precursor to the city’s public works) would make the connection from the homeowners to the street, so you had to pay for the infrastructure,” Gatto explained.
Oliver said that under the provisions of the sewer contract between Lathrop and Manteca, “Manteca keeps the books, Manteca operates the plant, and we pay 14.7 percent of the operating costs, labor costs and expansion.”


That arrangement hit a multimillion-dollar snag back when Pam Carder was the city manager in the late 1990s. Oliver explained that Manteca was billing Lathrop on a flat rate, “and we were sending more and more sewage because the city was growing and we should have been paying more for it.”


But, he said, Manteca “didn’t raise the price.”


That went on for “four or five years, so much so that the statute of limitation expired” and Lathrop didn’t have to pay for the entire bill. Manteca sued Lathrop for the back payment, and “we paid, I think, four years. We paid as much as the law required us to do.


“When Manteca found out about (the billing mistake), that made for bad feelings,” he recalled.


But that was all smoothed out after the “big meeting” at the Manteca Senior Center between the two city councils.


“A lot of things were cleared out and we settled with Manteca. It cost a bunch, underpaying the bills for four years,” Oliver said.


But it was all an honest mistake, he said. “We should have been monitoring the amount of sewage we were sending over there, and Manteca should have been monitoring what we have been sending over there.”


Three wastewater
treatment plants
currently serve Lathrop


Today, Lathrop’s 17,400 residents are served by three wastewater treatment plants, including the Manteca facility which is obligated by contract to provide 14.7 percent of the capacity to Lathrop. Those who are being served by this agreement are residents who live in the areas east of Interstate 5 and north of Louise Avenue.


The second sewer facility is the Crossroads Treatment plant which primarily serves the commercial and industrial center south of Louise Avenue, east of the freeway.


The third facility is simply called MBR #1 which serves the new developments west of the freeway.


The Central Lathrop Specific Plan area where Lathrop High School is located, and where the Richland Planned Communities was to have been developed, was required under a development agreement to build a new wastewater treatment plant to serve the roughly 6,400 homes that were planned for this project.


Sewage from the new high school is currently being pumped, trucked and hauled and then treated at MBR #1.

To contact Rose Albano Risso, e-mail  ralbanorisso@mantecabulletin.com or call (209) 249-3536.


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