|Summary|| Item F 7a was a request by Poseidon Resources (Surfside), LLC asking the Commission to waive application fees for the resubmittal of their Huntington Beach Desalination Plant coastal development permit (CDP). At the hearing, Coastal Commission staff summarized the saga associated with this project: Since the early 2000s, Poseidon has tried to fast-track the necessary permits needed to construct and operate a proposed seawater desalination facility in the City of Huntington Beach.
The history of Poseidon's permitting attempts is quite extensive and resource intensive. In 2005, the City of Huntington Beach approved an EIR and issued Poseidon a local permit for development of the desalination plant. The Surfrider Foundation (Surfrider) opposed these actions because they didn’t adequately consider the impacts to marine life from the seawater intake and the habitat degradation from the brine discharge. Poseidon was also issued a “temporary” permit for the intake and discharge from the Regional Water Quality Control Board. Surfrider appealed all these decisions because they were inadequate enforcement of the law and because they were premature given the laws were about to change.
Poseidon let those permits expire in 2010 and the public had to go through the entire process again. Poseidon did not make the necessary changes in the new EIR and permits, so Surfrider had to file new appeals on the same grounds.
The two most recent permit attempts were submitted in 2013 and 2015. In 2013, Poseidon withdrew their permit after discussion by Commissioners seemed to imply the permit would be denied. While the Commissioners never said it, they were discussing the very same problems Surfrider had highlighted in our appeals 8 years earlier. Of course, Poseidon knew the problems with the proposed project, it was all laid out in our appeals. They chose to ignore the problems, forcing Coastal Commission staff and organizations like Surfrider to spend significant time and resources to prepare for the hearing – only to have Poseidon say: “Never mind.”
Over the past 8 years, many organizations have worked closely and diligently with the California State Water Resources Control Board to develop regulations for seawater desalination that would protect marine life and ocean habitat, but still allow desalination projects in California. In 2015, the Board approved an amendment to the Ocean Plan regulations requiring all seawater desalination facilities to use the “best available” site, design, technology and mitigation measures feasible. It also establishes that subsurface intakes are the preferred method for desalination facilities to obtain seawater.
In September 2015, Poseidon submitted its second CDP application (#9-15-1361) and application fee of $280,324 to the Commission. After the new Ocean Plan amendment made it clear that sub-surface intakes were required, Poseidon still proposed the more destructive open ocean intakes by insisting on an exception to the rule. This permit was later withdrawn in the fall of 2016, just before it was scheduled to go to hearing and after a staff report was completed. Of course, the public had also spent significant time and resources preparing for that hearing -- again.
In exchange for withdrawing its permit application, the agencies and Poseidon developed a Memorandum of Agreement on Permit Sequencing that outlines the preferred review sequence for agency review – i.e., that the SLC will complete another EIR (now the third attempt); then the Regional Board staff will develop a tentative decision within 90 days of the SLC completing the EIR ; and only then will Commission staff will schedule a hearing on Poseidon’s new CDP application within 90 days of the Regional Board’s published tentative determination of Poseidon’s project’s conformity with the Desalination Amendment. This is the schedule Surfrider has been recommending for 16 years, and Poseidon has repeatedly opposed. Yet now, after forcing several state agencies and the public through flawed permit procedures – wasting everyone’s time and resources – they ironically take credit for fashioning a “permit streamlining” idea.
In their staff report, Coastal Commission staff highlighted four main reasons to deny Poseidon’s request to waive the permit fee:
1. Poseidon’s proposed project has required significant staff time over more than 10 years, and recent proposed changes to the project and new information about the project will require substantial additional work to determine whether it conforms to the Coastal Act and relevant Local Coastal Program.
2. Poseidon has identified no financial hardship as a reason for its requested fee waiver.
3. In 2015, Staff recommended that Poseidon not submit the CDP application until after completion of the third phase of an independent study conducted to determine feasibility of alternative intakes and alternative sites and after the Regional Board had determined whether Poseidon’s proposed project conformed to requirements of the state’s recently adopted Desalination Amendment. Poseidon nonetheless submitted its application.
4. Commission staff offered Poseidon a method to avoid its 2015 CDP application withdrawal and thereby avoid the need to resubmit an application and application fee, but Poseidon declined to follow staff’s advice.
Commissioners agreed with staff recommendation and voted unanimously to deny the fee waiver request.
|Outcome Description|| The California Coastal Protection Network and Surfrider Foundation testified that in addition to a significant amount of Coastal Commission staff time, a huge amount of the public’s time has been invested over the past decade in reviewing Poseidon’s proposals and pointed out that Poseidon routinely blames state agencies for the delays that they themselves have caused.
Upon deliberation, Commissioner Mary Shallenberger motioned immediately to approve staff’s recommendation to deny the fee waiver and Commissioner Steve Kinsey seconded the motion. Commissioner Kinsey stated that the fee waiver is not warranted because of the need for further technological review that will take a large amount of staff time. The Commissioners voted unanimously to deny Poseidon’s permit fee waiver.
|Why You Should Care|| This is one more in a long string of Poseidon’s attempts to subvert state and local permit review. Their efforts to undermine the process have resulted in long delays and an inordinate amount of public resources. They’ve blatantly ignored staff direction, attempted to evade environmental review and pressured agencies to “streamline” the review. It is clear that the international conglomerate’s driving concern is profits - at the expense of our coast.
It is extremely important that state agencies complete a full and thorough analysis of desalination plants, as required in the State Water Board’s new Ocean Plan amendment and the Coastal Act. There are several desalination plant proposals throughout the state that are taking note as to how this application is reviewed as the first under the new Ocean Plan regulations. Desalination plants as a new water supply paradigm has profound implications for the California coast including impacts to environmentally sensitive habitat, marine life, coastal access and climate change.
|Decision Type||Request for a Fee Waiver|
|Opposition to Project||Surfrider Foundation, California Coastal Protection Network, Newport Banning Ranch Conservancy|
|Coastal Act Policies||Chapter 3, Section 13055(h)(1) of the Commission’s regulations|
|Mary K. Shallenberger|
View Meeting Page for the meeting where this issue was discussed/voted on.