Riverside County supervisors Tuesday approved a $2 million plan to jump-start a $16 million Wine Country sewer system, laying the groundwork for a major winery expansion.

The Board of Supervisors rejected Supervisor Jeff Stone’s proposal[1] to borrow $2 million from a waste management fund. Supervisors said that would have set a bad precedent and would have tapped what is in essence a reserve.

Instead, the board voted 4-0 to sell bonds backed by Wine Country hotel taxes. Hotels generate $215,000 a year in taxes now and that is expected to more than double by 2015.

Supervisor John Tavaglione attended the meeting, but stepped out of the room before the vote.

Stone said bond financing will cost between $75,000 and $250,000.

The board also voted 4-0 to require[2] all new wineries and housing tracts of at least five homes to hook up to the sewer system within 60 days of its completion. Existing wineries and homeowners would not have to do so.

The sewer line would run along Rancho California Road. Eastern Municipal Water District[3] would build and operate it.

Charlie Bachmann, Eastern assistant general manager in charge of engineering and construction, said last week that the district board is expected to award a design contract in June. Bachmann said construction should begin a year from now and be completed by late 2014.

Stone said the $2 million commitment is enough to get the sewer project off the ground.

He emphasized the commercial expansion envisioned in his Wine Country Community Plan[4] can’t occur without a sewer system because of water quality concerns. The underlying aquifer is the source of Temecula’s drinking water.

“This is where the economic boom is in Southwest Riverside County,” Stone said. “But it needs a little kick in the pants to get it going. … This will help us realize the dream of expanding the Wine Country.”

Assembled in recent years by an 18-member committee of winery owners, landowners, equestrians and homeowners, the plan is expected to be reviewed by the Planning Commission in June.

It could reach the board by August.

The plan would establish new rules, such as a requirement that commercial wineries be built on a minimum of 10 acres.

Stone said the plan will set the stage for tripling the number of wineries from 35 to more than 100, flanked by hotels and restaurants. He has often said he wants to transform Wine Country, which is largely a weekend attraction, into a destination resort.

Stone said $500 million in winery and related projects already are in the planning stages, but that a sewer system is needed to “unleash this economic engine.”

He said the expansion will create thousands of jobs.

The $2 million from the county will be combined with $4 million pledged by five large wineries.

Stone wanted to pull the $2 million out of the county’s waste management fund. But Supervisor Marion Ashley objected.

“This is tantamount to borrowing from the general fund,” Ashley said, saying he considered the waste management fund a secondary reserve.

The county’s general fund reserve has $140 million in it.

Hans Kernkamp[5], general manager and chief engineer of the Waste Management Department, said after the meeting that there is about $140 million in the waste management fund.

Kernkamp said up to $50 million of that cannot be touched because it has been set aside for cleaning up and eventually closing landfills. He said $80 million to $90 million is not restricted, and could be borrowed against.

Supervisor Bob Buster, like Ashley, wanted no part of that.

“I want to jealously guard our county’s reserves in these tough times,” Buster said.

Ashley said such borrowing would open the door to requests to tap the waste management fund for systems throughout the county. He said, for example, that a sewer system is badly needed in Menifee’s Quail Valley area because of serious health concerns.

“Sewage runs in the streets in wet conditions,” said Ashley, whose 5th District reaches to Menifee.

Health concerns also are driving the Wine Country sewer project.

Stone said water in the underlying aquifer already slightly exceeds San Diego Regional Water Quality Board limits for contaminants. And there is a threat that many large wineries depositing sewage into the ground through septic tanks would further contaminate the supply.

Rancho California Water District[6] pumps water out of the basin to serve Temecula-area residents. The aquifer is the source of 25 percent to 40 percent of their water.

In related business, the board voted unanimously to use $300,000 in developer fees to fund completion of an equestrian and bicycle trail plan for Wine Country.

And the board voted to boost RBF Consulting’s contract for developing an environmental impact report for the Wine Country plan by $42,000 to $271,346.

References

  1. ^ proposal (rivcocob.com)
  2. ^ require (rivcocob.com)
  3. ^ Eastern Municipal Water District (www.emwd.org)
  4. ^ Wine Country Community Plan (www.socalwinecountryplan.org)
  5. ^ Hans Kernkamp (www.rivcowm.org)
  6. ^ Rancho California Water District (www.ranchowater.com)

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