ONE might wonder why a sewer plant requires a "charm offensive" but the facility that treats Milpitas' sewage has been touring folks through, doing surveys to find out public opinion, and generally doing outreach. One of the reasons behind all this is the proposed billion-dollar plan to cover the 180 acres of the active tanks, filters and pipes where the raw sewage coming out of the underground first hits open air.

Some people, including a lot of Milpitans, think that is where the city's periodic big stinks originate. A study by Milpitas engineers found there were multiple sources that were smell inducers at different times of the year and under varying conditions. But it would appear that the San Jose-Santa Clara powers that own the complex think efforts to reduce the smell will win Milpitas' support and financing of a big project, and they are probably right.

The billion dollars would cover up some of the plant with smell-suppressing enclosures. It would also go toward modernizing the aging equipment. The plant's origins go back a long ways. In 1950 an ancient malfunctioning plant was overwhelmed by cannery wastes from this agricultural valley. Under state pressure, the voters passed the first of a series of bond issues. As the region's major treatment facility, new areas were added to the service under more state pressure. Milpitas' own small plant failed and led the community to extend its sewer mains to the big plant toward Alviso.

San Jose's far-sighted


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and aggressively growth oriented city manager, A.P. "Dutch" Hamman, insisted on a really big chunk of land as buffer but also looked toward the day when extremely cheap reclaimed mudflat acres would be worth millions.

San Jose's Environmental Services Department has been testing reactions to the notion that the 2,600 acres other than the 180 of newly enclosed working sewer plant might well be turned into the big bucks of shopping centers, restaurants and maybe even a nice home for the Tesla electric car factory. The other periodic smell source is likely to be 700 of those acres of buffer which are actually dry lagoons where sludge, the solid product of the process, gets dried out before being buried at the Newby Island Landfill off Milpitas' Dixon Landing Road. These could be modernized into 100 acres of greenhouses, reducing the smell, and freeing up land for other uses.

Milpitas residents and businesses pay about $30 a month for their sewage bill. The cost of this big project will be passed along without a vote of the people affected, much like the $4 billion rebuild of the huge Hetch Hetchy water system which is the exclusive supplier to 60 percent of the city. When it comes time to pony up, it will be the Milpitas City Council that will be arm-wrestling the San Jose-Santa Clara sewage plant owners.

Sounds like our local leaders may find themselves overmatched.

If you would like to know more about this, you can go on the Internet to www.sanjoseca.gov/esd/plantmasterplan or call 975-2556. You can also make a reservation for the free two-hour tour to become the most knowledgeable sewer expert in your neighborhood.