Groundbreaking ceremony. Photo courtesy of Jose Aranda.
Groundbreaking ceremony. Photo courtesy of Jose Aranda.

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After over three years of negotiation and planning, the city of San Juan Bautista held a groundbreaking ceremony on Aug. 3 in front of the city’s wastewater treatment plant to celebrate the beginning of construction of an $18 million project to hook up the city to the Hollister Wastewater Treatment plant.

Building the pipeline to Hollister and abandoning the city’s existing system became necessary when the plant’s inability to process waste efficiently led to over $900,000 in fines imposed by the Regional Water Quality Control Board. 

“I have been involved in more complicated projects than this,” said City Manager Don Reynolds, “so I did not think it would take this long. It was not just a matter of negotiating these fines but also figuring out the costs of the project and getting the financing.”

Project sign. Photo courtesy of Jose Aranda.
Project sign. Photo courtesy of Jose Aranda.

The $18 million project will be paid for by $4 million in grants, $1 million from the Environmental Protection Agency through Congressman Jimmy Panetta’s support, and $3 million through support from state Senator Anne Caballero and Assemblyman Robert Rivas. 

Another $4 million grant and a $10 million low-interest loan were provided by the Department of Agriculture, which will be paid for by residents by means of increased sewer rates. 

“Everything kind of grew organically over time, and our confidence began to grow,” Reynolds said. “What has made this a great project is a great collaboration between us and the government at all levels.”

When the project fell $2 million short, the Department of Agriculture committed to bridging the gap with a last-minute, low-interest loan, completing the funding and allowing the project to go forward.

“There were some stumbling blocks as far as money went,” Reynolds said. “We were really stuck with that $2 million deficit, and I was seriously thinking about dipping into our general fund. We have a full  year in reserve, but I did not want to go to the City Council to suggest that.”

At the very start of the project, Reynolds brought in Stantec Consulting Services, which turned out, he said, to be a fortunate choice.

“I didn’t anticipate Stantec’s design team doing such a good job in describing the logistics of the project,” Reynolds said. “In one sentence, it’s just a pipeline, right? But it crosses the San Andreas Fault and sensitive biological areas, which adds a lot of complexity to the project.”

Reynolds said he took great satisfaction in the ceremony, saying he was pleased that the regulators for both the Environmental Protection Agency and the water board enforcement, who had worked with the city as partners, along with Hollister and San Benito County officials, were present for the groundbreaking.

“We were celebrating getting the project started,” he said, “but we were also celebrating their cooperation and collaboration. I thought being able to acknowledge all of them was one of the best moments of the day.”

Construction will begin at the San Juan end of the project, at 1300 3rd Street. The seven-mile pipeline will cross the Rancho Vista development, then travel north on San Juan Highway and east on Prescot Road. It will then travel south along San Justo Road and end at the Hollister Wastewater Treatment Plant.  

The Hollister plant currently has a capacity of 3.40 million gallons per day, and, according to the 2022 Annual Report, the current flow is 2.60 million gallons per day. Hollister has plans to expand the plant to 6.80 million gallons per day, which would allow for an additional 5,000 single-family homes to be connected.

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