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This is Part II of a series of excerpts from a lengthy OC Voice interview with Mayor Keith Bohr of Huntington Beach. We spoke to the mayor about the long delayed efforts to clean up the ASCON toxic waste site in southeast Huntington Beach and the nearby desalination plant planned by Poseidon Resources Inc.

Note that the interview was conducted last November, when George W. Bush was still president of the United States and prior to the ASCON study session referred to in the interview.

By John Earl
OC Voice

Q: There hasn’t been any change at ASCON toxic waste dump in southeast Huntington Beach for decades now. In every election every city council candidate has said we want to clean that up. Fundamentally, not a thing has happened.

H.B. Mayor Keith Bohr. PHOTO/OC VOICE

H.B. Mayor Keith Bohr. PHOTO/OC VOICE

Something has happened. We’ve had the polluters identified. They said ‘Yes we’re responsible.’ And they have five or six alternative plans that are listed by the Department of Toxic Substances. And we’re supposed to have a study session the first quarter of next year that says this is what DTS recommends as the clean up solution. And then we have to have the neighborhood talks. All of the cleanup choices include thousands of truck trips. Do you want it cleaned up to the point that you can put residential on it? I think that’s probably too expensive and the clean up people don’t want to do it and I think the neighborhood would probably say ‘We’d love that but we probably don’t want to do five years or whatever it is of clean up.” So we are moving. (more…)

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Part 3 of a series

By John Earl
OC Voice

Poseidon Resources Inc.’s website claims that the desalination plant it wants to build in southeast Huntington Beach, at Newland and Beach avenues, will be a “cost-effective solution to provide residents with a safe and reliable water supply by using existing structures—at no cost to taxpayers.”

NOT THE VIRGIN MARY: The OC Voice took this photo of the city's new seal and later noticed the mysterious man in the background.

NOT THE VIRGIN MARY: The OC Voice took this photo of the city's new seal and later noticed the mysterious man in the background.

Elected officials who voted to approve the desalination plant three years ago have consistently echoed Poseidon’s claim: Poseidon would privately own and operate the plant for its own profit and for its investors—a strictly free market affair with no taxpayer investment or risk, they said.

City council representative Don Hansen praised the project’s supposed free market values to a crowded city council chamber before he gave Poseidon his vote along with three other council members, Keith Bohr, Gil Coerper and Cathy Green.

“My belief is that the market is going to drive the majority of these decisions. I truly believe that,” Hansen said.

If the Poseidon desalination plant is not profitable, he added, it “will never see the light of day. And it’s purely born on private investment dollars, the risk that they [Poseidon] are going to take.”

In a candidates’ debate last year, Hansen warned that “We’re going to need the water” and reassured again that “It’s not us building the plant. It’s all private investment.”

If all goes well for Poseidon, its Huntington Beach plant will produce 50 million gallons of drinking water per day by sometime in 2011. It still needs to obtain additional government permits and must work out a franchise agreement with the city first.

Poseidon plans to build an almost identical desalination plant in the city of Carlsbad. That project is further along in the permit process and if financing comes through it could start construction this summer. Poseidon’s CEOs dream of building large desalination plants at other California coastal locations as well.

Hansen’s appeal to the free market instincts of the voters is persuasive in a city where the call for smaller government is almost a religious doctrine. But attributing either Poseidon project to to free-market karma is misleading because the company could benefit from as much as $1 billion in taxpayer supplied subsidies that would make it easier for Poseidon to attract the private sector financing that it also needs but still lacks in order to build and operate the two plants. (more…)

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Part 2 of a series.

By John Earl
OC Voice

Huntington Beach City Councilmember Don Hansen reassured the public. “I’m actually pretty comfortable having a private company potentially evaluate the dedication of a source for our future water supply,” he said.

The Tampa Bay, Florida desalination plant: A series of failures and costly delays. Photo: www.treehuggers.org

The Tampa Bay, Florida desalination plant: A series of failures and costly delays. Photo: http://www.treehuggers.org

That was three years ago at a city council meeting when Hansen and three other council members, Cathy Green, Gil Coerper and Keith Bohr (now Mayor Bohr) voted to allow Poseidon Resources Inc. to build a desalination plant at the corner of Newland and Beach avenues in southeast Huntington Beach.

If all goes according to plan, the facility would convert 127 million gallons of seawater into 50 million gallons of fresh drinking water every day of the year.  The city would have the option of buying up to 3.5 million gallons of that water at a discount compared to the cost of imported water (two-thirds of the city’s water comes from ground wells, its cheapest source of water). The rest would be distributed throughout the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC), in theory, to provide a guaranteed water source to help offset drought conditions in the state.

The plant still needs approval from the State Lands Commission and the California Coastal Commission and Poseidon still lacks the private and public financing needed to build and operate, although Poseidon officials say that all are forthcoming (see Part 1).

No matter if the Huntington Beach desalination plant fails, Bohr said, because the burden will be strictly Poseidon’s. “We’re not hiring Poseidon, so there’s no risk,” he told hundreds of people packed tightly into the city council chambers. “If it fails, it doesn’t cost us anything.”

But Poseidon’s facility in Tampa Bay, Florida, it’s first (and failed) attempt to build and operate a desalination plant,  is used by opponents to argue against building the Huntington Beach desalination plant.

The Tampa Bay desalination plant, about half the size of the one planned for Huntington Beach, has operated improperly  if at all since it opened in 2003. (more…)

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By John Earl
OC Voice

(Part 1 of a series on desalination)

Poseidon Resources Inc. and the four Huntington Beach city council members who voted in 2006 to approve the company’s request to build a desalination plant in the city’s southeast section promised that the project would be paid for with private funds-at no cost to the city’s taxpayers.

L-R: Huntington Beach Councilmembers Don Hansen, (Mayor) Keith Bohr, Gil Coerper, Cathy Green.

L-R: Huntington Beach Councilmembers Don Hansen, (Mayor) Keith Bohr, Gil Coerper, Cathy Green.

But Poseidon, a multi-national equity investor and developer of privatized water systems, currently controlled by “zombie” bank, Citigroup (which is being bailed out by federal tax funds), could directly and indirectly benefit from $1 billion in public funds, about 70 percent of that courtesy of taxpayers in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties and the rest paid for by taxpayers across America through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) signed into law recently by President Barack Obama.

The subsidies would also be directed at a nearly identical Poseidon desalination plant in the city of Carlsbad and would help ensure but not guarantee that both plants are cost effective for Poseidon to build and to operate. Under the city approved plan, Poseidon would build the desalination plant in Huntington Beach next to the AES power generating station at Beach and Newland streets. Poseidon’s plant would suck in 127 million gallons of seawater per day through existing AES cooling pipes to create 50 million gallons of per day or 56,000 acre feet of drinking water each year.

Poseidon would sell 3.2 million gallons of converted seawater per day to the city, a small fraction of its total daily water usage from other source, at five percent less than it pays the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) for water. The other 47.8 million gallons per day would go to MWDOC’s member districts at government subsidized prices. Jobs would be created by the building and operation of the plant and the city’s tax base would go up, according to predictions made by Poseidon and city staff. (more…)

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By John Earl
OC Voice Editor

Based on information taken from a variety of sources, including the H.B. City Council Candidates Forum held on Sept. 18, as well as from Voice news stories, interviews and from campaign literature provided by the candidates.

Desalination plant

Desalination plant

Q. How would you solve the potential water shortage crisis in Huntington Beach and should ocean water be privatized for corporate profit? Is the Poseidon desalination plant (planned for southeast Huntington Beach) a good idea?

Kalmick: Conservation. Encourage but not mandate people to get rid of their lawns. Desalination for Huntington Beach is the wrong solution. The location is wrong and no one has offered to buy the water yet. Poseidon Inc. hasn’t successfully built a plant yet. Its Tampa Bay desalination plant went through two bankruptcies before the municipal water district had to take it over. And the H.B. plant would be twice the size. We don’t need it. Privatized water sets a bad precedent for water wars that are allegedly coming in the next 20 years. A 2007 Coastal Commission report raises questions about the project that Poseidon hasn’t answered. Electricity costs for running the plant are double what Poseidon said. Doesn’t make sense financially to build it.

Fact check: The Poseidon plant will be built with private funds, although the company seeks government subsidies in order to keep a lower price for the water it will sell. (more…)

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By John Earl
OC Voice Editor

An environmental scientist for the California Coastal Commission says that the Carbon Dioxide factorycost of water to be produced by a desalination plant approved by the city of Huntington Beach has been greatly underestimated by the developer and that proposed mitigation measures for its impact on ocean marine life are inadequate.

The project was approved by the H.B. City Council (including current councilmembers Don Hansen, Keith Bohr, Cathy Green and Gil Coerper) in Feb. 2006.

The remarks were part of a letter to Poseidon Resources Inc., the multi-national corporate water corporation that will oversee construction of the plant that would suck in 100 million gallons of ocean water every day and convert it into 50 million gallons of drinking water. Poseidon plans to co-locate with the AES power generating plant on Newland Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway to take cost-saving advantage of the plant’s “once-through cooling” system to gather the ocean water it needs for conversion. (more…)

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