Larkfield sewer expansion provides emotional victory for rebuilding fire survivors

To hearty applause and tears of joy from grateful survivors of the October wildfires, Sonoma County leaders this week advanced their first major infrastructure project designed to improve a devastated neighborhood north of Santa Rosa.

County supervisors unanimously authorized a financing plan that will bring sewer service into a section of Larkfield where dozens of homes were connected to septic systems before they burned down.

The voluntary program is seen by supporters as a way to enhance rebuilt homes there, freeing residents from having to deal with problems related to aging septic systems and possibly allowing them to expand their new homes, add a granny unit or reconfigure their property in a different way.

“The first real example of us building better is right here before us,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman James Gore, who represents Larkfield. “I really hope this snowballs in a positive way to a lot more.”

The project’s advancement proved to be an emotional milestone for a group of fire-affected residents who have spent months navigating a taxing and complicated rebuilding process.

“A lot of us are really struggling,” said Gena Jacob, whose home in the Larkfield Estates subdivision burned down. “We want to stay committed to our rebuild. There’s a lot of setbacks. We don’t have a lot of wins. … It just gives you more momentum and wind beneath your wings to just continue fighting through all the obstacles that we have in rebuilding.”

When it was first proposed several months ago, the sewer plan was met with stiff resistance from critics who worried they would be forced to participate in a costly program against their will or that it would open the door to more development in their neighborhood than they were comfortable with, among other concerns.

But county officials kept tweaking the program, agreeing to make it entirely voluntary.

No one who wants to stay on septic will be required to connect to the newly extended sewer, even when they sell their homes, according to the Sonoma County Water Agency, which is managing the project.

Mary Allen, who also lost her Larkfield Estates home in the Tubbs fire, spoke strongly in support of the sewer program, drawing on a lot of personal expertise as a septic inspector for the county. She said the sewer would be more sanitary, allow homeowners to expand without undertaking costly septic upgrades and spare them the headache of dealing with a decades-old wastewater system.

“I think the people that were opposing it really had no idea (of) the costs and that it could fail at any moment with no warning to them,” Allen said.

Numerous properties in the Larkfield area are already connected to sewer, but a swath of homes, most of them southeast of Old Redwood Highway and Mark West Springs Road, were still on septic before the firestorm destroyed them. To extend the existing sewer lines in the area, homeowners will have to pay construction costs, connection fees and annual service charges.

The construction costs — about $45,000 per property — will be financed through a loan, but payments won’t be due for 10 years and no interest will accrue in the meantime. Once due, annual payments are expected to be about $2,750 per year.

North Coast Wine Challenge Winners

Best of the Best
Taft Street 2016 Russian River Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir

Best of Show Rosé
Taft Street 2016 Russian River Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir

Best of Sonoma County
Taft Street 2016 Russian River Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir

Best of Show Red
Folie à Deux Sonoma 2014 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Best of Show White
Anaba 2014 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Best of Show Sparkling
J Brut Rosé

Best Dessert/Late Harvest Wine
Navarro Vineyards 2016 Anderson Valley, Mendocino, Cluster Select Late Harvest Muscat Blanc

Best of Lake County
Brassfield Estate Winery 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Best of Marin County
DeLoach Vineyards 2014 Marin County Pinot Noir

Best of Napa County
B Side, 2014 Red Blend, Napa Valley


Tasting Room blog: Behind the scenes at the North Coast Wine Challenge

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