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February 28, 2006


Drink Desal, not Kool-Aid

If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, Lurk is a walking time bomb.

First, Poseidon's desal plant didn't fail in Tampa... In fact, it was on time and on budget. Then once they got all their permits, the PUBLIC WATER AGENCY (Tampa Bay Water) decided they would buy Poseidon out and finish building the project themselves. Only to save money Tampa Bay Water cut corners. Penny-wise and pound foolish, Tampa Bay Water ended up with a plant that didn't work properly and they're still fixing it today. Had they not bought Poseidon out and let them finish building the facility to the standards they agreed to, Tampa would be functioning today.

Secondly, since when is it the city's job to decide whether or not a business will be profitable or not? What if Detroit told Henry Ford, "No, you can't build these horseless carriages. They're too expensive and no one will buy them."

What exactly is the worst that can happen? No one buys the desalinated water? There is a bond that says if the project dies on the vine, Poseidon will restore the area at AES to its former condition (but obviously won't put back the rusted oil tanks they're taking out).

It's not a "water factory right in the heart of the HB tourist industry." It's located at the AES Powerplant (It'll use a portion of the seawater that AES uses to cool its turbines) - already zoned industrial. Poseidon isn't asking for any waivers or variences. And they'll be tearing down the larger old rusted oil tanks and replacing them will lower profile water tanks.

Regarding the fact that the project will be built with union labor, I'm not thrilled with that. It just increases the cost of the project, but that again is not a city issue, it'll just cut into the company's bottom line. That's Poseidon's call, not the city's

If the project doesn't pencil out because the water is too expensive, so be it. But what right would the city have to kill the baby in the cradle because local city politicians think they know more about the economics of water than a company that specializes in that?

We need the water (secure through 2030? Please!). The cost of importing water from Northern California continues to increase and with the population expansion in Arizona, Nevada and Colorado, we're getting less and less Colorado River water.

Orange County has a chance to be drought-proof with projects like this and GWRS and Huntington Beach will reap millions annually in tax revenue because this is being built by a private company and not a public agency. HB also gets 3.2 million gallons of desal water per day at 5% less than they're currently paying for imported water.

FYI, the vote was:
Keith Bohr - Yes
Cathy Green - Yes
Don Hansen - Yes
Gil Coerper - Yes

Debbie Kook-er-Cook - No
Jill Hardy - No
Dave Sullivan - No

Debbie's doomsday Green Party-line hysteria could not intimidate the more conservative members of the council. Thank God for that.

Don Hansen

I'll help with the vote breakdown right now.

Hansen, Coerper, Green and Bohr - Yes

Cook, Hardy, Sullivan - No.

As one of the council members who cast as yes, vote for the project, I am somewhat surprised by the criticism I have been detecting by some of the posts relating to the project here at OCBlog

The desal plant is being proposed and financed 100% by private investment. We have not (and will not on my watch) invest one cent into the facility. It is interesting to note that our local water agency has been analyzing the same site for a potential desal plant. Who would pick up the tab for that one? Give me private industry any day over the taxpayers.

In fact, the reason IMO Tampa Bay failed is because the local water agency bought out the private contractor before completion. This is the classic case of government bungling a project that was better suited in the hands of private industry. The record is clear on Tampa Bay's blunder. We won't make that mistake here.

The desal plant is being built directly behind the AES power generating facility. While I am sure they get their occasional field trip or two, I don't believe anyone believes this specific location to be the "heart of the tourist business" It makes sense to co-locate the facility with the existing infrastructure. Furthermore, the current state of that property is probably the worst in the city. The aesthetic enhancement alone is worth it.

It was a fully conforming project that met all zoning for the area and required no variances to be approved. No special deals required.

The PLA is the developers choice not ours. If they think union labor and wages is the way to build and make money, again it's their nickel.

Many speakers were from labor, but why are we leaving out the OC Taxpayers Association, the OC Business Council, The HB Chamber of Commerce, the OC Realtors, and countless others who see that private-public is a viable solution that saves the taxpayers millions? All of these spoke in favor of the project.

I'll live with the black eye that some shameful individuals have given us.
However, an objective and informed view of this project by people who really know the details made this decision easy for any true taxpayer advocate.

Councilmember Don Hansen


I have at least two problems with this.

It's simply a bad business deal - if Poseidon can't make money, someone (like the City of HB or the County) will end up bailing them out. I'm not reading of any commitments from any water district or municipality that they'll buy this output -- and why should they if, as it's reported, the supply is "secure". Nor would I rely on the South County NIMBYs to buy it -- and if they did, doesn't it make more sense to build it down there (not if Cassie DeNimby can help it -- she's even opposed to a tunnel to bring water into the area -- I can imagine the field day that Len Kransner and his minions would have with this plant on THEIR beaches).

Secondly, the use of PLAs is a bad deal for non-union workers and independent contractors. The County correctly and finally rejected PLAs -- HB didn't have the stones to do that. Had Poseidon not done the PLA, you can be dead sure the union representation last night would have been completely different and they would have been picketing the joint in opposition, so it's apparent that the City has sold out the the union greedbags.

Rex Ricks

Since it went down 4-3, I can tell you the vote right now.

Keith Bohr
Gil Coerper (up for re-election in 2006)
Cathy Green (up for re-election in 2006)
Don Hansen

Debbie Cook
Jill Hardy (up for re-election in 2006)
Dave Sullivan (up for re-election in 2006)

I was at that meeting last night, but I had to leave at 11:15. At that time councilmember Gil Coerper was asking a lot of tough questions of Poseidon. He even indicated he was leaning against this project. I thought he saw the light. Too bad he voted for it anyways.

The number of speakers (including yours truly) who were against it, were 44.

The number of speakers for it was 39. However, many of them were union workers from out of town. They mostly said "This will create jobs for us and pump money into the city." Many of them spoke for a mere 30 seconds and did not have any compelling reasons to support the project. If the city was planning on building a bridge to Hawaii, A tunnel to the other side of the Earth, or a Stairway to Heaven, the unions would have shown up to support it.

Now I have been in a teacher's union and can relate to some of these people as my brethren. However, I would NEVER support something that would destroy my childhood hometown such as a desal plant.

As someone who has worked at schools, I would not agree to having an incinerator, or a halfway house built at a school site.....even if it meant a payraise for my union.

Some of these union members actually do live in HB, and I find it hard to believe they would support destroying the city's most precious asset, the ocean. There is plenty of meaninngful, non-destructive work they could do instead, such as repairing all those dips on Heil Avenue!!!!

One of the most damning things that happened last night was Poseidon representative Billy Owen admitted last night that POSEIDON DOES NOT HAVE ANY POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS. So why go through all that hassle to build something of questionable return????? Not to mention the city of Costa Mesa has VETOED putting any pipelines through their city!!!

Also, the cost of the desalinated water would not even be competitive with current sources. So if they build a plant and nobody buys the water and it goes broke, WHO pays for it? Couldn't be the taxpayers. Nah!

OR, Billy Owen is not being forthcoming about WHO is really behind this and who his customers are. Why is that?

Drink Desal, not Kool-Aid

This is a free-market issue. Poseidon thinks the cost of imported water will rise and the cost of desal will decrease (as both have done over the last decade). If that happens, Poseidon makes money, MWDOC buys water that is cheaper than imported water, and everyone's happy.

If that doesn't happen, Poseidon's shareholders take it in the shorts, MWDOC points and laughs and continues to buy imported water.

Who is putting a gun to a public agency's head forcing them to buy desal water? No one.

The County rejected PLAs for public construction projects, and rightly so. But the County cannot prohibit random Orange County businesses from using union labor. And we wouldn't want our government to have that kind of control over business.

Just as the City of Detroit can't tell Ford to hire non-union workers to build their cars, Huntington Beach can't tell Poseidon to hire non-union workers to build their desal plant. It's Poseidon's money. Hell, if Poseidon wants to hire one-armed Samoan midgets to build their plant, God bless 'em.

Rex Ricks

People will be making their feelings known at the ballot box for this environmentally destructive white elephant bond busting boondoggle.

As for the assembly and senate races, I will list endorsements from HB City Council people and where they stand on desal. This would likely give a good indication as to how a senate or assembly candidate stands on the issue.

Diane Harman:
Endorsed by
Keith Bohr (pro-desal)
Debbie Cook (anti-desal)
Dave Sullivan (anti-desal)

So far her HB endorsements are 33% favorable to desal while 67% are opposed to it.

Mike McGill:
Several endorsements from his fellow Cypress council members and nearby cities but none from HB as of yet.

Jim Silva:
Endorsed by
Gil Coerper (pro-desal)
Cathy Green (pro-desal)
Don Hansen (pro-desal)

His endorsements are 100% pro-desal.

Now let's look at the Senate race.

Dianne Harkey:
Don Hansen (pro-desal)

Her endorsements are 100% pro-desal so far.

Tom Harman
Dave Sullivan (anti-desal)

His endorsements are 100% anti-desal so far.

These races will be influenced by voters well beyond the city of HB. There were several speakers from Costa Mesa, Dana Point, Laguna Beach, and Newport Beach urging a no vote. And of course, there were union members from out of town as well. However, unless they are registered Republican, which is highly unlikely then they cannot vote in the primaries.

If I was to use deductive logic based on endorsements, then here is how one could figure out what camp a candidate would be in.

If one is anti-Desal, then vote Harman for assembly and Harman for Senate.

As for Mike McGill, who knows?

If one is pro-desal, then vote Silva for Assembly, and Harkey for Senate.

Now if I am wrong, then I hope these prospective candidates will take a stand on this issue. This desal plant is far more than a mere one city issue!

Drink Desal, not Kool-Aid

Make no mistake, the conservatives on the council aren't going to lose too many votes supporting desalination.

Most of these speakers from outside HB were the same tree-hugging brigade the showed up to protest Foothill-South and show up to protest anything and everything that actually benefits people.

Rex Ricks

Thing again, if you say conservatives will not lose too many votes. Well, you are the same person who bashed Debbie Cook. She only happened to set an all time record in votes in a city election with 30,000 plus votes! And this is someone who practices "doomsday Green Party-line hysteria" as you put it.


Rex and other anti-Desal'ers:

(1) I have no dog in this fight,
(2) I'm one of OCBlogs resident Environmentalists,
and (3) You're objections don't make sense to me.

Building water projects without a specific paying customer is not that weird -- the lead time on water projests can run to decades. The business case is obvious: Poseidon is betting that the steady, decades long trend in dropping Desal prices will continue. The fact that Arizona and Nevada will be their increasing uptake from Colorado River water at S. Cals expense is icing on the cake. This looks like a great business risk - I wish I could get in on this.

I also fail to understand how this negatively impacts HB aesthetically. The AES site is already a nasty, noisy eye-sore. Doesn't AES still occasionally run the "peakers" during the day? In contrast Desal plants are a lot quieter, so what's the real objection? Is fighting Poseidon really just window dressing for those folks to see the whole AES shootin' match run out of town? If that's one's goal, okay, but have the honesty to say so.

That said, I am with you on a key point that has been largely ignored in this discussion: effluent. Desal plants concentrate salts, solids, and heavily metals and have to dump them somewhere. Improperly handled this waste stream could deal an additonal nasty blow to OC's already impacted coast line. HB, the Coastal Commission, and anyone supporting this plant need to insure the Poseidon handles their discharge properly.


You objection makes even less sense to me. If Poseidon fails, what will the city of HB be on the hook for? Santa Barbara has already shown what to do with an uprofitable Desal plant: chop it up and sell the parts to the Saudis. So long as Poseidon's money is used to build the this and HB is NOT on the hook for any defaulted bonds, it seems (economically) like a complete win-win for HB.

Come on Lurk, where' is that can-do "build it now" attitude you proudly displayed on the 241 extension?


I don't think I've ever written anything about the 241 -- I don't live near it and know little about it except that, as usual, it's been delayed by you treehuggers.

disillusioned by OC Blog

So someone on OC Blog thinks that massive gov't bureaucracies are better at providing water than a private company working in a competitive environment? Has Tom Harman taken over this blog? What's going on here?!?!

This isn't "in the middle of the tourist beaches" -- catch a clue: it's co-located on a power plant facility.


Drink Desal, not Kool-Aid

As irony would have it, Tom Harman actually did an op-ed article SUPPORTING the Poseidon desal project about four years ago before he lost his backbone and went neutral on the project.

Gotta love him!


Dis: Sorry you're disillusioned. OC Blog is the LAST place you'll find big government advocates. And speaking for myself, neither am I a Tom Harman fan.

I thought I was clear that this is just a bad business deal -- it's beyond me how an organization like Poseidon can make this large an investment on the pure speculation that desal water might someday get cheaper (despite union wage inflation) than river water. That's not a risk any stockholder should abide. They lost in Tampa, and they've provided no evidence on why they'd succeed in HB. And, we've hardly been in a drought the past few years. This deal smells, and when they fail, I don't see them just closing up shop -- by that time, the local unionized (probably OCEA by then) staff will be leaning on any gov't which listens (as the County slavishly does to Beradino) to buy their product anyway. The pols will listen and make their excuses -- especially since, by then, Cathy and Co. will be long gone and easily blamed. My made-up scenario here is no more difficult to believe than the one that Poseidon's pushed on Naive Green and her two pals.

No blogpen member here has been more vocal than me about using private enterprise in place of government. Convince me, for just a few examples, that Treasurer/Tax, the Libraries, the jails, the public works department can be run more efficiently by a government than a private company. I'm for outsourcing anything that makes sense (how about that dog County Planning Department?), but NOT if it's a losing business model.

Fear not, tho -- I doubt the Coastal Commission will let this one get by -- if they got indigestion over those disappearing dunes in NB, they're gonna have a freaking coronary over a plumbing plant on a beach -- no matter how well it's hidden by what might eventually become a NUCLEAR plant. Chew on that one for awhile, Dis.

Drink Desal, not Kool-Aid

Wow! You're spinning hard if you're hopeful the socialist Coastal Commission will come to your rescue. They are infamous for their anti-business positions. In fact, I'd be willing to bet you'll see them deny the project, then watch MWDOC take the site through eminent domain and get the same project approved by the Coastal Commission because they're a public agency and not a private company.

There's no way putting saltwater back in the ocean can be considered a significant environmental impact.

Dude, a nuclear plant? I want to smoke what you're smoking!

John Earl

Dear Don Hansen and Hansen fans:

Since I am a resident of Huntington Beach and Don Hansen is my favorite city council member, I would like to response to some of his comments on Poseidon made in this blog.

But first, Don, let me again congratulate you on your McCarthy style interrogation of one of the speakers during city council public comments last night. You really got into it. In fact, you were so excited there I thought maybe you were going to fall out of your chair.

But like I said last night, wouldn't it be nice if you could get tough like that with Mr. Ownens and your other (many) corporate backers? I guess it's a lot easier to pick on an unsuspecting citizen who should have brought his footnotes (but still didn't do too bad on second view at the city website) than it is to corner a corporation that has given you...how much now??? How many thousands in campaign contributions did you receive from Poseidon and other out of town corporations, Don??

Oh, yeah, you're the one who campaigned on a platform to clean up Huntington Beach, so you couldn't possibly be swayed by anything but an objective look at the facts. Right?

Anyway, I'm sure that none of those corporate bosses (or your local political mentors) would ever expect anything in return for their investment of money and time.

Now, to your essay.

You state that "the desal plant is being proposed and financed 100% by private investment."

Not exactly, Don. Without subsidies, there is no way that Poseidon could sell it's water for the $800.00 per unit it used to always promise. If anyone anwhere gets that price the taxpayers will still be paying for it with subsidies, which will have a ripple effect that raises water rates for us all. Desal water goes from $1200 - $2000 per unit. And those estimates were before the recent prediction that energy prices are going to skyrocket. The city currenty pays $297.00 per acre foot for groundwater and
$495.00 per acre foot for outside water through the MWDSC. Which makes more economic sense to you?

We will also pay dearly in other ways, which you totally ignored last night with your vote. We will pay by wasting dwindling and cost soaring energy resources that will result in more polution in the atmosphere when we should be conserving--the most cost efficient and reliable way to supply ourselves with reasonably afffordable water for the future.

The PUBLIC owns the water, not corporations, so why should we violate hundreds of years of well founded and well reasoned public trust law just to let some "free market" profiteers charge us rediculous rates for our own water while they contribute more to our planet's environmental degredation at the same time?

(By the way, the world-wide water privatization industry that Poseidon is part of, and that you bowed down to with your vote last night, seeks out subsidies everywhere it goes around the world. Just read their literature if you don't believe me. Their intent is to capitilize on water crisis, real or imagined, and suck us dry of our water and our money, wherever they go, not to provide the rest of us with "complete local control.")

Next, you state that "our local water agency has been analyzing the same [Poseidon] site for a potential desal plant."

They can analyze all they want, but the site that they chose is in South County, not at the Poseidon site. And they aren't interested in the kind of desal facility that Poseidon wants, as you well know.

You add: "Who would pick up the tab for that one? Give me private industry any day over taxpayers."

Water privatization has been a disaster worldwide. From the USA to India to Bolivia it has led to increased cost for rate payers (taxpayers), inefficiency, shortages, etc. There was nearly a revolution over that fact in Bolivia. Taxpayers save money and retain much more control over water resources by owning it themselves and mangaing it through elected officials.

HB residents will have no vote on the Poseidon executive board. The return on their tax money from the public sector is far better than the return they will get from subitting to that infallible but mythological private market god that you beleive in.

Next, on Poseidon's Tampa Bay debacle you state: "In fact, the reason IMO Tampa Bay failed is because the local water agency bought out the private contractor before completion. This is the classic case of government bungling a project that was better suited in the hands of private industry. The record is clear on Tampa Bay's blunder. We won't make that mistake here."

The local water agency HAD to buy the plant because private enterprise, mostly under the watch of Poseidon, failed time and time again first.

Poseidon blames Asian Green Muscles for its Tampa failure, but here's what happened:

Under Poseidon's watch, the contruction company it hired decided to cut costs by cutting corners. That led to inferior parts used, inferior construction and unstable structures.

Under Poseidon's watch, galvanized instead of stainless steall parts were used. There was excessive membrane silting and electrical transformers for high pressure pumps were not properly protected from air, dust and humidity.

The private parties could not get adequate financing and there were 2 bankruptcies prior to the takeover by Tampa Bay and a third bankruptcy after the takeover by the same construction company.

The end result: the Tampa Bay Authority had NO CHOICE but to takeover and try to repair the mess made by water entrepreneurs. The taxpayers will pay at least $28 million for repairs and between $91 and $170 million in added water costs over the next 30 years.

Not exactly a "classic case of government bungling," Tampa Bay IS a classic case of what happens when public officials bow down to the dogma of privatization. And your account of it, to the benefit of Poseidon, is a classic example of how facts are bent to push an extremist ideology that calls for creating a corporte government that is accountable to stockholders but not voting taxpayers.

Next: "I don't believe anyone believes this specific location to be the "heart of the tourist business"

I don't think anybody made that claim, so discard that Red Herring, please. But all of the beach area IS a tourist attraction and AES certainly detracts from that as would a desal plant.

And what about the property values of the nearby residents? Fixing the fences and planting some trees may not make up for the loss in property values from the plant itself. And why should we force the residents in that area to live next to a desal plant that by all credible reports IS NOT NEEDED!

(Don, you stated last night that there were contradictory reports from state agencies about our water needs for the next 20 years, but the reports I have seen are not contradictory. What reports were you refering to???)

Then you say "It makes sense to co-locate the facility with the existing infrastructure."

But that's only because Poseidon, as the wrong type of desal plant to have even if we did need one, needs the AES cooling system and because you are mistaking the company's needs for the public's.

Next you say that the project conforms to zoning for the area, but what about Sandi's well researched argument to the contrary? Did you read it? How was she wrong?

It was also appalling the way you bargained with Poseidon in public view to try to get them to agree to pay only half the $800,000 annual utility tax it should have to pay.

By the way, that's another Poseidon subsidy right there and it's also a hell of a lot of lost money for the city, Don, that issue should have been settled BEFORE allowing the plant to be built. Now it seems that we will have to go through costly litigation or simply take what Poseidon decides to give us, because Owens seemed very reluctant to pay even half of what Poseidon would owe.

Don, you ignored the devil in details and did what your developer friends wanted, not what the majority of residents of the city wanted.

But you're still my favorite city council person, although Cathy Green deserves lots of credit too for her excellent immitation of Register Columnist Cindy Cross (out classed only by the late Edward R. Murrow).

John Earl

Jan Vandersloot

Councilman Don Hansen had the wool pulled over his eyes when he let Poseidon convince him that it was Tampa Bay's fault for the desalination fiasco down there.

Mr. Hansen states:
"In fact, the reason IMO Tampa Bay failed is because the local water agency bought out the private contractor before completion. This is the classic case of government bungling a project that was better suited in the hands of private industry. The record is clear on Tampa Bay's blunder. We won't make that mistake here."

Mr Hansen knew, but apparently chose to ignore, the history of mismanagement, bankruptcies, and financial failings that led to Tampa Bay's takeover of the desal project after Poseidon could not secure private financing to complete the project. Instead, Tampa Bay used its good name and credit history to take over the project. Remember that Poseidon does not actually build and operate these plants, they hire out to contractors, incompetent contractors who eventually file for bankruptcy, like the Covanta entities, who left Tampa Bay in the unenviable position of having to start over and remediate the plant.

The bankrupcties associated with Poseidon in the Tampa Bay fiasco included Stone and Webster, Covanta, Covanta Energy, and Covanta Tampa Bay Construction. It is revealing to see that Tampa Bay did not choose Poseidon to remediate the plant, but another company, American Water-Pridesa, who is supposed to fix all the deficiencies caused by Poseidon's contractors by October 2006.

Instead of learning from this fiasco, Mr. Hansen voted to approve this incompetent company's project in Huntington Beach, proving the old adage "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it". Only what will probably happen, is that Poseidon will seek all the permits and half-build the project, before selling it out to another agency, most like MWDOC or OCWD, eventually putting it under control of a public agency, just the thing Mr. Hansen wanted to avoid, so that the desal plant can get the MWD's subsidy, which is not available to a private company like Poseidon. Huntington Beach is not a water agency and is in no position to attempt to operate a desal plant. HB is just a patsy, pandering for a few dollars to landscape the area, which Mr Hansen said was worth the project alone.

For a full background and history of the Tampa Bay fiasco, see link at:


Make sure to read the history and background, etc. Note all the financial wheeling and dealing and subsequent bankruptcies, and whose name keeps popping up: Poseidon.

Jan Vandersloot


What a motley crew! A Green-Nimby coalition that will probably only be satisfied if the site is turned into a passive park combined with Lurk, so obsessed with the private sector decision to use a PLA that he thinks he is in a better position then Poseidon to determine whether they can make a profit or not(and dragging OCEA into the mix adds comic effect). Pretty impressive coalition

John Earl

I would love a passive park. What a great idea!

Interesting how Don Hansen is suddenly so quiet. Maybe he's he's reflecting.

John Earl

Brookhurst Bill

Don probably fell into a deep slumber reading Earl's post. John, go back to HERE where you can organize hotel workers and deal with what you feel is a corrupt union . In the meantime, let Huntington Beach move forward.

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