The Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency board of directors voted 7-5 Tuesday to return to in-person meetings Sept. 7.
The September date is later than the Aug. 3 date recommended by board President Gary Martin in a report presented to directors at Tuesday’s virtual meeting.
“What I did two weeks ago is not something I would necessarily do today, because guidelines have changed (and) new information has emerged,” said Director Beth Braunstein, noting the public health recommendation to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.
Braunstein advocated for flexibility in the agency’s approach, which will be the subject of discussion Aug. 3, when the agency staff will present options for “implementing a hybrid program that would allow for some remote attendance by members of the public” as the board returns to in-person meetings.
“We need to be flexible with whatever we do,” she said. “I hope that comes through in our planning and how we do things.”
Director Bill Cooper said he didn’t understand the board majority’s rationale for picking Sept. 7 instead of Aug. 3 to return to in-person meetings.
“We’ve got to be able to be willing to be having our meetings like we’re supposed to,” Cooper said, citing recent public events attended by directors, including the State of the State event at the Hyatt Valencia.
The board decided to allow itself to authorize up to $40 million of debt issuance to address PFAS capital costs with a simple majority vote.
“When the merger occurred, we were not dealing with PFAS and we were not anticipating dealing with PFAS,” Daniel Mortensen, the board’s vice president, said during the meeting. “The limitation on retail debt was not made with the thought that we would be dealing with PFAS.”
The option to allow up to $40 million of debt issuance was a secondary recommendation that received one dissenting vote from Director Ed Colley.
The board first failed to secure a four-fifths majority to adopt the board Finance and Administration Committee’s primary recommendation that would not have placed a restriction on the debt issuance amount after waiving the $11 million financing cap and fourth-fifth vote requirement for retail debt.
Directors Kathye Armitage, BJ Atkins, Lynne Plambeck, Braunstein and Mortensen voted against the primary recommendation.
“Because (PFAS) was an unknown that was kind of dropped on us, it was appropriate for only PFAS work to readjust that limit to allow for more economic financing option than going out repeatedly for $11 million financing,” Mortensen said.
A staff report on Tuesday’s agenda item noted that PFAS capital costs amount to $47.8 million in SCV Water’s five-year capital plan.
“We should have discussion for how to do least-cost financing that may involve other sources of funds besides bond financing,” Martin added to the board discussion before casting his vote in support of the alternative financing plan.
PFAS are human-made chemicals found in a wide range of products used by consumers and industries, such as carpets, nonstick cookware and paper food packaging, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. SCV Water has undertaken efforts, including the first of several new treatment facilities that began operating late last year, to remove PFAS from local groundwater to make it available for use.
The board approved the purchase of a $275,000 generator for backup power at the Earl Schmidt Filtration Plant during public safety power shutoff (PSPS) and similar power outage events.
The purchase uses a $249,854 grant SCV Water received from the California Office of Emergency Services as part of its Community Power Resiliency program in March and $25,000 from the agency’s budget.
The report found that a new generator would allow the plant to operate at full capacity during outages.
Engineering work, including design, permitting and construction, related to preparing the plant for the generator will cost the agency $490,000, according to Mike Alvord, the agency’s director of operations and maintenance. That project is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.