Despite the opposition of some residents, property owners in the Carneros area approved a $100-per-acre annual assessment Tuesday night that will pay for the design and expansion of a potential 9-mile-long recycled water pipeline to the region.
Proponents of the project in the Los Carneros Water District say when it’s eventually constructed it will deliver 1,250 acre-feet of recycled water — with the possibility of more — to 3,800 acres in the area every year. They say it will reduce stress on groundwater supplies because some of the largest water users, vineyards, would begin using recycled water.
At a meeting of the water district’s board of directors Tuesday night, owners representing more than 76 percent of the acreage in the assessment voted to approve it.
Board President John Stewart said this is the closest the district, originally formed in the 1970s to develop recycled water sources in Carneros, has come to getting a pipeline built. A study determined the area needs 1,300 acre-feet annually.
“This is certainly one of the closest efforts we’ve had in bringing that to fruition,” Stewart told the approximately 40 people in attendance.
The successful vote will provide the project $380,000 in the next fiscal year, and $1.14 million over the three-year lifespan of the assessment. That will pay to design the pipeline and to increase its size from 8 inches in diameter to 24 inches.
A St. Regis resort project, approved by the city of Napa for Carneros several years ago, has plans to extend the smaller pipeline from the Napa Sanitation District’s plant, under the Napa River and out to the Stanly Ranch property.
The Los Carneros Water District will spend about $500,000 to expand the pipeline’s diameter. Stewart said the district has been told the developers behind St. Regis are planning to start boring under the river this summer.
The total cost of the pipeline is estimated to be $16 million, and the next request for an assessment would occur in 2015, Stewart said.
“Likely we would come back in 2015 and ask, ‘Do you want to fund the project?’ ” Stewart said. “The third assessment is about getting the infrastructure in the ground.”
Proponents of the project say sharing the costs saves the district about $1 million, as the district was planning to pursue its own pipeline from the sanitation district’s plant.
But some residents objected to being included in the assessment and having to pay for the costs of the pipeline even if they won’t use the recycled water. Tuesday’s vote will make the project ready to be started by laborers and sets the stage for a more expensive assessment in the future, which could cost $4,200 an acre total.
Property owner Brad Branagan said he owns 30 acres within the assessment district, which would amount to an estimated $120,000 total cost to him if the next assessment passed. He questioned why he should pay for it if he has a perfectly good well.
“I’m being pushed into it,” Branagan said. “I’m being volunteered into it without my consent.”
Stewart compared the pipeline to other public infrastructure such as roads, sewers and utility lines that benefit owners’ property values, even if they don’t use them. Stewart said the district would pursue a 20-year loan from the state government. Under that financing plan, owners would pay an extra $210 per acre per year in property taxes throughout those 20 years.
The boundaries of the assessment district were drawn following a previous assessment in 2009 that paid for a feasibility study. The district used a questionnaire in 2010 to gauge people’s interest and refined the boundaries based on that.
Cuttings Wharf Road resident John Bonick said some owners weren’t aware they were signing up for a long-term financial obligation when they responded positively to the questionnaire.
“I sort of feel like I test drove a Maserati and now I’ve got to buy one,” Bonick said.
Board member Erica Ahmann said the project is for the future benefit of Carneros residents and farmers.
“It’s for and by the residents of Carneros,” Ahmann said. “That’s why we’re assessing ourselves out here.”