Not since Hurricane Katrina have a few politicians toyed so dangerously with the lives of thousands.
Recently, State Sen. Sam Blakeslee fought hard for a suspension of the relicensing of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant until “a myriad of questions regarding the seismic setting at the facility are answered.” Blakeslee rode the headlines from Japan to headlines in the U.S.
Yet Blakeslee has remained silent on asking for a suspension of engineering contracts on the nearby Los Osos Wastewater Project, less than eight miles away from the nuclear facility, until a parallel liquefaction study for Los Osos can be completed prior to engineering the sewer project. Any major earthquake in the area is likely to affect both Diablo Canyon and Los Osos.
A geophysicist with a doctorate in earthquake studies from UC Santa Barbara, Blakeslee should know better – and he certainly does.
No one wants to see a nuclear accident at Diablo Canyon like it happened in Japan. Nuclear power is a hot political issue in California and elsewhere, and Blakeslee never misses an opportunity to blow his horn. No one wants to see the widespread damage caused by liquefaction in Japan and New Zealand happen in Los Osos. But the Los Osos sewer is itself a radioactive issue, and Blakeslee won’t touch it, even though the risk of severe liquefaction in Los Osos is greater than the risk of radiation exposure from Diablo.
Post Japan, the public widely views the Diablo plant as an accident waiting to happen, and Blakeslee didn’t build Diablo Canyon. But he did author AB 2701, the assembly bill shifting control of the Los Osos sewer project from the LOCSD to the County. The Los Osos sewer doesn’t have his name on it but might as well. No severe liquefaction in Japan and New Zealand, no high risk of liquefaction in Los Osos, no future repair and replacement costs, and no concessions to public safety will stop the Los Osos sewer project as long as Sam Blakeslee continues to operate with a split personality of politics over science.
There were no plausible reasons not to suspend the relicensing of Diablo Canyon to complete a seismic study, and there are no logical scientific or economic reasons why Blakeslee hasn’t asked the County to temporarily suspend work on the LOWWP until an updated liquefaction analysis — including new information from Japan and New Zealand – can answer a similar “myriad of questions regarding the seismic setting” for the gravity collection system in a high liquefaction zone.
And it needs to be done now, prior to engineering the sewer project, not after, when the only “soft fixes” will be re-tagged neighborhoods, wholesale evacuation and chemical toilets.
A thorough evaluation of the gravity system with respect to local hazards such as earthquakes, liquefaction and flooding should be required immediately. Such an evaluation is necessary to preserve the intent of the California Coastal Act – and protect Los Osos “Prohibition Zone” homeowners’ Prop 218 sewer assessment of $25,000 per home. If liquefaction had been considered at all in the Rough and Fine Screening reports by Carollo, gravity collection would have been eliminated as a viable alternative a long time ago. Instead, this glaring omission is costing Los Osos ratepayers many millions more than they should ever have to pay, and largely explains why the project is so outrageously overpriced at $200 million.
A significant seismic event on the Central Coast would likely impact both locations, but it doesn’t alarm even one member of the County Board of Supervisors that a shutdown of the Los Sewer sewer system caused by liquefaction would mean either evacuation or chemical toilets, only that a shutdown of Diablo would reduce the state’s electric power supply by about 10%.
CDM did not include liquefaction in its proposal to the County and refuses to explain why the County’s EIR classified the Los Osos area with high liquefaction potential and CDM didn’t address it at all in its technical proposal to the County. Fugro West in San Luis Obispo, CDM’s consultant supposedly working on the update, has also declined to comment on areas of high liquefaction potential it previously certified in March 2004 for the defunct ill-conceived MWH project at the Tri-W site, and other known areas it didn’t identify.
The EIR requires the liquefaction study “prior to approval of the improvement plans for the proposed facilities that are part of the collection system and at the treatment plant site,” yet EIR consultant Michael Brandman Associates and County Public Works have brushed off the liquefaction issue and the importance of the analysis to be done before CDM begins redesigning elements of the collection system, not after. Sweeping public safety under the rug appears to be a team effort.
Supervisor Bruce Gibson, County whip for the sewer, is in total denial that thousands will be forced out of Los Osos because of sewer costs and therefore offers no plan to help homeowners. Blakeslee looks the other way by not pursuing a seismic study for the costly and dangerous Los Osos gravity sewer about to built in what the County has long identified as a high-risk liquefaction zone.
The major unlearned lesson of Japan and New Zealand is a simple one, but remains difficult for Blakeslee and the County Board of Supervisors to grasp: Earthquakes don’t play politics with human lives; only politicians do.
— Ed Ochs