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No decision on desal plant

The California Coastal Commission hears further public comment and in the end votes to allow more study on the controversial project.

November 13, 2013|By Anthony Clark Carpio and Jill Cowan
  • Karen Greig, left, Thomas da Silva, and Alex Parza, hold signs during a meeting of the Coastal Commission to decide whether Poseidon will be allowed to build its desalination facility in Huntington Beach.
Karen Greig, left, Thomas da Silva, and Alex Parza, hold… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

After an hours-long public hearing, the California Coastal Commission put off making a final decision on a proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach.

"I don't relish going through another hearing like this, but I'm sure we probably will," Commissioner Greg Cox said during the meeting in Newport Beach council chambers. "I have a lot more questions than I have answers now."

Commissioners voted unanimously to take action that would allow for more study on several aspects of the project.

A timeline for moving forward was unclear. Poseidon agreed to withdraw its development permit application, with the understanding that the company would resubmit it after completing more research.

Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman said she was livid about the outcome.

"It's up to the applicants to submit a complete project," she said. "And if the project wasn't complete, it should've been denied."

Poseidon Vice President Scott Maloni said he saw the vote as a "win-win."

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Hundreds of people attended the hearing, spilling out into a breezeway and filling an overflow room.

Many may have been expecting the years of debate to culminate in a vote by the powerful state agency over whether to give the controversial project final approval.

The plant would take in massive amounts of seawater and transform it into drinking water. Some detractors have cited the process as harmful to the ocean environment.

Staff members had urged the commission — which is tasked with protecting access to California's coastline — to approve the project, but with major caveats that officials with Stamford, Conn.-based Poseidon Resources said would effectively kill the project.

Poseidon has said that those conditions, including using expensive subsurface intake pipes instead of existing intake and discharge systems at the plant's proposed site, would boost the cost beyond the point of workability.

The desalination project would be built at the AES Huntington Beach Generating Station, which has unscreened intake pipelines used as cooling systems. The commission's environmental scientists say the process threatens to suck in and kill large numbers of marine creatures.

Commission staff member Alison Dettmer took Poseidon to task for what she described as its shortsighted refusal to consider alternative intake systems.

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