Mount Shasta City Council members approved the hire of two temporary seasonal firefighters and approved an operating budget for the upcoming year during their regular meeting Monday evening, June 23.

Mount Shasta City Council members approved the hire of two temporary seasonal firefighters and approved an operating budget for the upcoming year during their regular meeting Monday evening, June 23.

They decided to hold off on an agreement with Northstate Resources for additional environmental studies on the Crystal Geyser facility to give council and public more time to review the expanded proposal. Local residents aired their concerns during public comment.

Volunteers needed

Mayor Tim Stearns and councilors Tom Moore, Geoff Harkness, Michael Burns and Jeffrey Collings unanimously passed a resolution approving the firefighters’ hire.

Mount Shasta City Fire Department Chief Matt Melo said it is difficult to find volunteers who have the time to commit to training and who can be there quickly in case of emergencies.

Because of this shortage and the impending fire season, which has the potential to be serious, Melo said paid seasonal firefighters are necessary to supplement the coverage that he and Assistant Chief Eric Dyck provide.

“As of May 2014, fuel moisture is at 52 percent,” said Melo. “The moisture content of the live manzanita is at 94 percent. These percentages are typically not experienced until August, and the potential for large fire growth is already at high levels.”

The positions will be full time and pay $10 an hour through Oct. 31 or when Governor Jerry Brown declares an end to the season, whichever comes first, said Melo. They will be paid with redirected funds from existing budgeted grants with no impact on the General Fund.

The council unanimously passed the 2014-15 budget, with the amendment to include the two fire positions. They also voted to established an appropriations limit for the upcoming year.

Crystal Geyser

City Manager Paul Eckert explained that the city is planning to expand the EIR on the sewer line enhancement project to include the Crystal Geyser facility.

On Dec. 16, 2013, council entered into an agreement with Northstate Resources and PACE Engineering to conduct that EIR. Adding additional studies will increase the price by an estimated $269,000, Eckert said.

That amount will come out of the $3 million Crystal Geyser has contributed toward the city’s sewer interceptor project, which would allow the water treatment plant to accept an increase in flows, he said.

The cost of the EIR could change, Eckert cautioned the council, based on the public scoping process and comments that are received.

Because the amendments in the agreement weren’t available to the city until Monday afternoon, the council opted to defer action until their July 14 meeting.

Paul Reuter from PACE said it makes “perfect sense” for the city to stay with Northstate Resources for the expanded EIR and pointed out they are a local firm.

Wirt Lanning, project manager from Northstate Resources, said the study will include traffic impacts, peer reviews and possibly new hydrogeological and water quality studies, air quality and noise studies. He estimated the process could take six months or possibly longer.

He said this is a “unique circumstance” since the plant is located in the county, and the county has determined no additional environmental review is necessary because bottling fruit juices is a permitted use of the land in the heavy industrial zone.

“Where you have the hammer” is in the hookup, Lanning said. If Crystal Geyser does not agree to mitigation measures which may be identified in the EIR, the city could deny hookup to the sewer system.

Moore said he is worried that Crystal Geyser may decide to leave, and if they do, the city would be liable for thousands of dollars of unnecessary studies. Moore said such an outcome would be “devastating for our community.”

Responding to concerns that the EDA did not approve the grant to perform the expanded EIR, but rather to upgrade the sewer interceptor, Eckert said the studies are an appropriate use of grant funds. He said Crystal Geyser would be obligated to pay the additional expense of the EIR, if there is any, since the studies are necessary before they can begin production.

Eckert said if Crystal Geyser left the Mt. Shasta area, they’d be leaving an “exceptionally heavy investment” since they’re “putting most of their eggs in this basket.”

Crystal Geyser representatives have stated that they may close other facilities elsewhere in California in order to consolidate in the Mount Shasta plant.

Public comments

During public comment, Dennis King said the council has very little “political courage” and wondered why no one challenged Crystal Geyser representatives when they were at the March 27 meeting.

Vicki Gold said she’d like to see the city indemnified if the EIR gets more expensive than currently anticipated. She said she’s seen EIRs that top $750,000 in cost.

Dan Axelrod said the city cannot trust Crystal Geyser and used the example of the amount of discharge the company said they will be putting into the sewer system. It is higher in the EDA grant application and lower for the public so as “not to arouse suspicion,” he said.

He said verifiable caps are necessary to ensure the company is only taking a specific agreed upon amount of water and discharging a specific amount of waste.

Gloria Cooper said Stearns’ request to not applaud after public statements is not fair. She said it’s “like censorship,” and she feels the public should be able to show its feelings through the natural reaction of applause.

Molly Brown said the council should consider climate change and how Crystal Geyser might affect that.

Raven Stevens urged the council to have new hydrogeological studies performed by an expert in volcanics, rather than just a peer review. She said existing studies are inadequate and unscientific and any EIR without new studies would be “an unfortunate sham.”

She also asked the council to look at full buildout and not just Crystal Geyser’s first phase.

Moore said even after the most complete study possible, he worries there are some people who will still be opposed to Crystal Geyser.

Stevens admitted that may be the case for some.

Maggie Shepard pointed to the dangers of plastics and asked for studies to be performed on possible health effects.

Peggy Reisch and David Kay Spear said California is in a state of emergency because of drought and asked the council not to sell Mount Shasta’s pristine water.

Rose Taylor said the council is placing too much emphasis on the economic benefit of Crystal Geyser. There is a Crystal Geyser Roxanne water bottling plant in Weed, she said, and “Weed doesn’t look prosperous to me.”

Other business

In other business, the council:

• Tabled an agreement with Siskiyou Media Council for more negotiations to take place;

• Approved an agreement for library management services with the Mount Shasta Friends of the Library.