No new sewer line means no new construction at Keller Beach
on November 15, 2023
It will be quite some time before any new homes are built in Keller Beach.
Since January 2022, property owners in the small Point Richmond neighborhood have been barred from obtaining building permits, owing to a city moratorium on new connections to the Keller Beach Sanitary Sewer, which stretches for just over a mile along the area’s coastline.
City officials tagged the line in November 2021, according to records, because of “severe internal corrosion” and sand deposits in portions of the pipeline, among other issues.
Now, says Deputy Public Works Director Robert Armijo, the city sits at the beginning of a long process to construct a pipeline further inland. Until a suitable alternative is found, approved, and constructed — which may take as long as a decade, Armijo said — the city will not lift the moratorium, which is set to expire in February 2025.
“We’re at the very, very beginning of the process,” Armijo said. “Construction is five years at the earliest, probably more like 10 years off into the future.”
According to city documents, there are about 290 existing connections to the Keller Beach sanitary sewer.
For property owners who wish to build in the area despite the moratorium, Armijo said they could consider installing their own septic tanks — though no system is in place in Richmond for shuttling sewage from septic tanks to disposal facilities.
“We would need to study that,” Armijo said, “and go through a rule-making process with our City Council so that we could allow this to happen.”
‘It’s a big problem’
Discussions about how to fix the sewer situation have been controversial among residents of the scenic, relatively remote coastal neighborhood.
At a City Council meeting in February, numerous residents voiced their concerns over the city’s idea of moving the new sanitary sewer inland, saying that construction work on the line would pose a noise issue and that residents downhill would need to install pumps to move their sewage up toward the line, at their own expense.
Some residents floated the idea of repairing the existing pipeline by installing new lining that would seal it from outside debris and leakage. This would avoid noise and pump issues, said Rod Satre, a Keller Beach resident and engineering consultant who’s been active in discussions with the city. And it would sidestep the complications of installing a new sewer line that would have to go up and down Keller Beach’s hilly topography.
“I used to have a poster on the wall of my office that said, ‘A complex thing that works evolved from a simple thing that works,’” Satre said. “The thing that you want is the simple thing that works. Adding complexity just adds operating costs.”
“It’s a big problem,” said Rick Beal, another Keller Beach resident. “As far as I know, everything is kind of on hold at the moment, but nobody knows for sure because the city has done just an absolutely atrocious job of communicating.”
City officials are not too keen on repairing the pipeline. Armijo said bends in the current pipeline would make it difficult to install a new lining. Plus, since the existing sewer line sits along the coast and its manhole covers are submerged during high tide, cleaning and maintaining the pipeline would continue to pose an issue.
Armijo said the city is weighing various options under a feasibility study that he expects will be completed by the middle of next year. Between now and then, he said, the city will host public forums where residents can voice their opinions about the new project — though specific details have not emerged yet.
In the meantime, Keller Beach property owners are caught in an indefinite hold on construction.
“People age,” Satre said, “and somebody’s dream of doing something in a certain time in their life changes when they’re told, ‘Well, you’re going to have to wait 20 or 30 years to be able to do something that you wanted to be able to do now.’”
(Top photo: A manhole cover on the Keller Beach coastline, by Thomas Sawano)
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