A decision by a Monterey County Superior Court judge has pushed back the construction schedule of California American Water's desalination project by about a year.
No physical progress will be made on the plant at least until after the California Coastal Commission decides on a critical permit request in March, according to an order issued by Judge Lydia Villarreal on Nov. 19. The schedule presented on the project’s websites says construction should have been underway starting in the first half of 2019.
"The delay by the Coastal Commission and the stay by the court are likely to impact construction schedules," says Cal Am spokesperson Catherine Stedman.
The court order stems from a lawsuit filed by Marina Coast Water District on August 15 against Monterey County and Cal Am. The lawsuit says that the county had improperly granted the company a development permit for its proposed desal plant. Additional environmental review is required, Marina Coast said, adding that Cal Am does not have rights to the water supply it proposes to tap into nor the necessary approval to construct pumps that would supply brackish water to the desalination plant.
In March, the Coastal Commission will vote on whether to grant Cal Am’s desal project a permit for source water pumps that the company wants to install on a beach in Marina. The commission was initially expected to decide on the matter at its November 13-15 meeting in Half Moon Bay. Commission staff recommended a rejection of Cal Am’s permit, citing the dip in water demand on the Peninsula, potential impacts of the desalination project to groundwater supplies, and the availability of an alternative water project.
But as the November meeting approached, Coastal Commission staff announced the matter will be discussed in two installments, with the vote postponed to March. The schedule change came after the California Public Utilities Commission staff raised technical questions about the recommendation against Cal Am’s permit.
Hundreds of residents and public officials from Monterey County traveled to Half Moon Bay on Nov. 14 to participate in the Coastal Commission hearing. Dozens more chimed in on video from a livestream camera set up by the commission in Marina. A clear majority of nearly 200 speakers voiced opposition to Cal Am. It took more than five hours to get through public comment, and more than seven hours for the entire discussion.
At the conclusion of the day's meeting, several commissioners expressed support for the video link to Marina and praised the level of engagement. “We reached a segment of the population that doesn’t always make it to our monthly meetings,“ Commissioner Carole Groom said. Notable was the diversity in age, gender, cultural and linguistic origin of the speakers who came out to speak against Cal Am’s project.