Things got chilly in the council chamber at Huntington Beach City Hall last night following passionate public debate over the proposed construction of a $1 billion desalination facility to be built by Poseidon Resources Inc. on Surf City's shores.
The debate ended with a 4-3 vote in favor of councilmembers writing separate letters to the California Costal Commission (CCC) requesting denial of the Poseidon project. The agenda item, originally proposed by Mayor Connie Boardman, called for a vote that would send a council-approved letter (written by Boardman) to the CCC. But after discussion with the city attorney, who warned that such a collective action by the council could open the city to a Poseidon lawsuit, a substitute motion suggesting individual letters was passed instead.
The city has twice given approval to Poseidon to proceed with its project, once in 2005 and again in 2010. Mayor Boardman's letter noted that since the council's 2010 approval of Poseidon's Coastal Development Permit (CDP), several organizations and two coastal commissioners have appealed the approval with the CCC now claiming that the project is riddled with "substantial issues."
"We now agree with the Coastal Commission's findings of 'substantial issues,' and that the issuance of the CDP did not adequately enforce several provisions of our Local Coastal Program," read the letter.
Chief among the concerns are potential effects on marine life which could be sucked into the plant's intake pipes or harmed by concentrated brine and chemicals released into the ocean. The letter also mentioned harmful green house gases which would be emitted by the energy-intensive desalination process.
The near-capacity chambers teemed with residents and activists both for and against the letter. Many could be seen wearing blue stickers that read "Yes on Desal," while others had stickers with the word "Poseidon" and a red line through it.
During public comments, those against the Poseidon project spoke of dead marine life and the ever increasing cost of desalted water spurred by increases in energy prices.
Those in support of Poseidon spoke of more than 2,000 jobs which would be created if Poseidon is allowed to proceed, and the disaster that might ensue if it isn't. There was apocalyptic talk of a naval armada forced to drop anchor off our local coast where ships would use nautical desal systems to create potable water then helicopters to bring the water (Katrina style) to the masses.
After the public comments, councilmember Jill Hardy told the crowd she didn't support the Poseidon project in 2005 and wouldn't support it today, adding that she had significant doubts after a Poseidon scientist once provided her with false data.
She explained that fears of water shortages were unfounded and that 25-year projections indicate Orange County will still have plenty of water a quarter of a century from now.
"Because of conservation, water use has decreased as our population has increased," Hardy said.
The evening was provided some levity after Mayor Boardman said the council had received a letter from Poseidon Attorney Chris Garrett threatening a lawsuit. Councilmember Joe Carchio said this wasn't true and asked Garrett to come to the podium and explain himself.
Standing before the council, Garrett said that Poseidon had not made any such threat. As he walked back to his seat, Carchio then looked to the city attorney to ask if this was true.
"We did receive a letter from Poseidon's attorney threatening litigation. Yes," the city attorney deadpanned as the room erupted in laughter.
Mayor Boardman, as well as councilmembers Hardy, Dave Sullivan, Joe Shaw and Jim Katapodis said they would each send their own letters urging to Coastal Commission to deny the Poseidon project.
Meanwhile, councilmembers Carchio and Matthew Harper voiced their support for the company.
Boardman added that the letters don't change the approval already granted Poseidon by the city in 2010. The Coastal Commission is one of the last hurdles for Poseidon to jump through. The agency, charged with coastal protection, is expected to render its decision this summer.