The Coastal Post - August 2000

MMWD All But Approves Sonoma Pipeline To Marin

By Elena Belsky

Approximately 200 people packed the Civic Center Board of Supervisor's chambers on July 11th, for the Marin Municipal Water District's Russian River pipeline hearing. Protesters outside the building chanted and beat drums, waved signs, marched with huge, silver Coho salmon sculptures, handed out literature and pasted passers by with "No Pipeline" stickers. Inside, people were lining up to testify before the board on the issue.

After only an hour of public speaking, the testimony was cut off to the consternation of many who were unable to speak. Ultimately, the Board members, Jared Huffman, Dick Hill, John Jaeger, Joe Nation and Chair Jack Gibson, decided to not vote on the pipeline construction, but instead committed to an Environmental review process and to hiring a consultant to evaluate current conservation and recycling practices. But strangely, and seemingly at odds with the first two board promises, were five "directives" to the staff:

1) Perform an EIR (type needed to be determined by legal counsel) with "meaningful public review;"

2) Develop construction contract plans and specifications;

3) Develop financing options and make a recommendation for hiring a financial consultant to "assist with the sale of bonds;"

4) Prepare applications to seek all necessary permits;

5) Prepare all necessary documents for real property acquisitions.

Those in the audience were struck with the "go" attitude obviously being put forth by the water district board as evidenced by the staff directives. As people were grumbling and commenting out loud, Jack Gibson, who was reading the staff written motion for the first time, quickly added a few sentences to appease the disgruntled crowd. Quote: "In making these findings, declaring this intent, and providing staff with this direction, the Board does not commit to constructing the Sonoma-Marin Transmission Line."

The Board motion set up everything to begin construction, short of a vote to start building. The existing EIR for the pipeline project is nine years old, and prior to the Federal Endangered Species Act. It remains to be determined what the scope and extent of the EIR will be; supplemental, negative declaration or a full review, as called for by environmental advocates. It may be that MMWD will claim that effects on salmonid fisheries in the Russian River is solely SCWA's responsibility, and not theirs, as they are merely a customer.

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