Nader Agha courts Pacific Grove as the potential lead of his desal project.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Local real-estate mogul Nader Agha is certain he’s got an affordable solution for the Monterey Peninsula’s water crisis. But his People’s Moss Landing Water Desalination Project can’t move forward without a public agency to lead the charge. Now, Agha’s inviting the city of Pacific Grove to be that agency.
The P.G. City Council heard Agha’s proposal during its Feb. 15 meeting at the request of Councilman Dan Miller, and formed a subcommittee comprised of Miller and Councilman Rudy Fischer to look into it.
Agha wants P.G. to issue nearly $129 million in bonds to pay for the People’s Project. That breaks down to $30 million for a discounted 55-acre piece of his Moss Landing Commercial Park, and almost $99 million to contract with Desal America – a company he co-owns – to build a desal plant, a 6-megawatt solar farm and a pipeline from Moss Landing to Seaside. The commercial park would then donate $10 million back to the city, according to a Feb. 8 letter from Agha to the City Council.
Agha figures the 10,700 acre-feet of product delivered to California American Water customers would cost about $850 per acre-foot. “I challenge anybody to match this number,” he says.
But City Manager Tom Frutchey is skeptical. “There are a number of reasons for Pacific Grove not to invest significant effort to analyze or sponsor Mr. Agha’s proposal,” he states in the staff report. After summarizing a half-dozen of those points, including a lack of in-house water expertise and uncertain costs, he adds one reason to consider Agha’s pitch: “Every option, no matter what its perceived likelihood of success, deserves consideration.”
The subcommittee held its first meeting last week. “Without so many people involved, maybe we can get to a point that we have something concrete to present to our council,” Miller says. “It’s far from fruition, but we might be closer than anyone else is. There are really no red flags, and I’m one of those all-time pessimists.”
Under Monterey County and California Coastal Commission rules, any desalination facility that supplies public water must be owned by a public entity. Agha says he’s also approached the cities of Seaside and Monterey about taking the lead, and is willing to turn the project over to a nonprofit.
Attorney David Laredo, who advises both the city of P.G. and the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, says Agha has spoken with the district about a potential collaboration. The district has not been interested.
The Monterey Peninsula is scrambling for a new water supply under a state mandate to cut back Carmel River pumping by 70 percent in late 2016. The Regional Desalination Project, a proposed $400 million partnership between Cal Am, Marina Coast Water District and Monterey County Water Resources Agency, would have provided that replacement water.
But the Regional Project fell apart earlier this year when stalled mediation and other roadblocks prompted Cal Am to drop its support. The California Public Utilities Commission has asked Cal Am to report back with a new water supply plan on April 23.
Water officials will host a public forum on March 14, 5-8pm, Oldemeyer Center, 986 Hilby Ave., Seaside.