Does Orange County Want to Dig Another Hole for Itself?

More than a dozen years after county officials ordered the filling in of a five-acre flood control basin in an industrial neighborhood in Orange, they are partnering with the Orange County Water District to dig it again.

At least they were.

Earlier this month, the Orange County Board of Supervisors delayed consideration of a $3-million deal to excavate the basin while they consider whether it makes sense to work with the water district and whether the dirt from the fill can be used on other county projects.

The odd land-use decision — to fill in a flood control basin — was uncovered by the OC Weekly more than a decade ago. The story detailed the county's plan, devisede after the 1994 bankruptcy, to fill the five-acre basin and sell it without regard for the area’s flood control needs or state environmental reviews.

“At the time, it was felt that if we filled the basin we could sell property,” said Acting Public Works Director Ignacio Ochoa when queried publicly by county supervisors. “It was a mistake in my opinion,” Ochoa said.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson has questioned whether the water district might pay for all of the remediation costs, since it is planning to use the basin for water conservation and groundwater replenishment.

Board Chairman John Moorlach also wants staff to see whether it makes sense to move dirt from that project to another expanding La Pata Road in South Orange County.

Supervisor Bill Campbell has opposed any delays, telling his colleagues publicly, “We cut a deal with these folks [the water district], and we cut the deal 18 months ago.”

Yet according to the county staff report, this latest deal may also have gaps in environmental reviews.

“The City of Orange General Plan is silent on permitting flood control and/or groundwater recharge uses on properties within the Industrial land use designations,” reads the staff report. “However, the final Mitigated Negative Declaration finds that the proposed project is consistent with all General Plan goals and policies.”

— NORBERTO SANTANA JR.

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