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Enormouswater tank provokes West Marin

Jean Berensmeir, a San Geronimo Valley resident since 1962, hoisted an enlarged color photograph above her head during a public meeting this week that depicted a 10 million-gallon water tank proposed for a ridgeline above Woodacre.

“Give me just one word,” she asked an audience of nearly 200 residents inside the Woodacre Improvement Club.

“No!” everyone shouted.

That was the undeniable sentiment at Thursday night’s meeting about the tank, which is proposed by the Marin Municipal Water District to solve water quality and system reliability problems. Many residents plan to work shifts outside the post office both days this weekend to drum up community opposition to the project proposed by the water district, which recently began a $170,000 study to examine environmental impacts.

Jared Huffman, the water board director who represents the area and attended the meeting, wouldn’t take a position because he said the project is still in its infancy. But, he said, the district has an obligation to fix problems for its 170,000 customers and the best way for San Geronimo Valley residents to avoid housing the water tank is to figure out a better place to put it.

“That’s where you’re going to get the most traction,” he said.

The district wants to install the 10 million-gallon tank on Blueberry Ridge to supply water to the Ross Valley and serve as a backup during emergencies. At 40-feet deep, 100-feet wide and 300-feet long, it would be nearly the size of a football field and three times the size of other storage tanks in the county.

The tank would be mostly underground, and the perimeter would be landscaped so the tank would not be plainly visible from the surrounding area. However, the tank outline would be visible from nearby hillsides.

The tank would allow the district to discontinue using the Pine Mountain Tunnel, an 84-year-old concrete tunnel used as a water storage facility since the 1970s; the tunnel holds only 2.5 million gallons and does not meet tightened water treatment standards.

In the event of a power failure, water from the tunnel couldn’t be pumped from the San Geronimo Valley water treatment plant over White’s Hill to the east, and an outage would create a vacuum that could collapse the pipeline.

Other sites, such as an area across Sir Francis Drake Boulevard near the Spirit Rock Meditation Center, were considered but ultimately rejected for various reasons having to do with visibility and accessibility.

The projected cost of the new tank – excluding land acquisition – was $6.5 million in 2001. But the price is closer to $12 million now that extensive studies have been conducted. Funding for the project, which has been considered since the 1970s, is included in the district’s long-range capital improvements budget.

At Thursday’s meeting, longtime community members and activists fired up the audience with stories of past development battles such as one that called for 20,000 new homes and an eight-lane highway in the area. Two men even promised to stand in front of the first bulldozer that would try to create a road to the project.

“It’s just insane,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of SPAWN, which relocates fish into the area’s creeks, referring to the water tank project.

Lagunitas resident Rick Haber, 60, said some have accused area residents of suffering from not-in-my-backyard syndrome, but that isn’t the case. He said the water treatment plant that already sits along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is enough.

“The San Geronimo Valley has done more than its share,” he said.

Fairfax Councilman Frank Egger also weighed in at the meeting.

He said he learned of the project only after seeing a sign in the San Geronimo Valley, not from district officials, even though an estimated 5,000 truckloads of dirt would have to be removed from the site and driven through Fairfax. He said Fairfax has recently spent a lot of money upgrading its roads.

“We’re not going to stand for that,” he said.