Company urges coastal commission to ignore staff on desalination plan

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The company that wants to build a desalination plant in Huntington Beach has sent a letter to the California Coastal Commission objecting to a staff recommendation the company says would scuttle the plan.  The commission is scheduled to consider the issue Wednesday. 

Last month, coastal commission staff recommended the agency approve plans for the Poseidon Water desalination plant. But it attached a condition that the water intake system for the plant be built beneath the ocean floor. 

Poseidon's initial proposal was to use an open-ocean water intake system currently used by a Huntington Beach power station.  

"While Poseidon appreciates staff's efforts over the past seven years processing Poseidon's CDP [Coastal Development Permit] application, we strongly disagree with staff's recommendation that the commission approve the project as conditioned in the staff report," Poseidon Water vice president Scott Maloni said in the letter dated Nov. 8. "Though masked as an approval recommendation, the staff report is an effective denial of Poseidon's proposed Project."

Maloni has said a so-called "subsurface intake" system would be prohibitively expensive. The Coastal commission staff says the existing open-ocean system is harmful to ocean life and the marine ecology. 

On Tuesday, the coastal commission staff responded to Poseidon's letter with one of its own. 

"Poseidon has known for at least 10 years that commission staff believed that a subsurface intake was an environmentally preferable alternative," according to the commission staff letter. "Staff requested in multiple letters dating back to May 2003 that Poseidon conduct the studies necessary to assess this alternative. Despite this, Poseidon chose not to pursue this alternative at its own risk that the commission would concur with staff that it was an environmentally preferred alternative to open-ocean intake."

Poseidon's letter and the response from the commission staff will be included in an addendum to the initial staff report. Opponents of the project were not happy with the last-minute additions.

"We assume that the motions contained in the staff report will be the motions considered and deliberated at the November [13] hearing," says a letter to the commission from Residents for Responsible Desalination, the Surfrider Foundation and Orange County Coastkeeper. "We strongly oppose any late amendments to the motions in the staff report without adequate notice."

That letter from the project's opponents will also be included in the addendum.

The coastal commissioners are set to consider Poseidon's development permit application and the staff recommendations at it meeting starting at 8 a.m. Wednesday in Newport Beach.  

Poseidon has applied for a permit to build the desalination facility next to the Huntington Beach Generating Station along Pacific Coast Highway.

The company wants to use the power plant's open ocean water intakes to turn seawater into 50 million gallons of fresh water a day. But those pipes, known as "once-through-cooling" are being phased out by the state.

Poseidon claims retooling its plans to include subsurface intakes would require the company to undergo a new "entitlement process" before the City of Huntington Beach, the State Lands Commission and the Regional Water Board. 

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