Defactualization: Bogus polls emerge from sea bottom before Poseidon hearing

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

In July the Surf City Voice exposed a bogus public opinion poll conducted by Poseidon Resources Inc. last spring that was obediently promoted by the Orange County Register’s Huntington Beach reporter, Jaimee Lyn Fletcher (Probolsky + Poseidon + Register = Bogus Desal Poll) in a subsequent news feature.

The poll purported to show an increase in support and decrease in opposition to Poseidon’s proposed seawater desalination plant, to be located at the corner of Newland Avenue and PCH in the southeast portion of Huntington Beach.

examining the cards
SCV editor John Earl examines "support" cards that Poseidon Resources collected over the past 5 years. Photo: Marie Braddock

We wrote: “But Fletcher’s article, like the poll it purports to inform its readers about, is laced with deception and wrapped in secrecy, no doubt providing a service to Poseidon but leading the Register’s unknowing readers astray in this election year.”

The Voice article revealed that the methodology used to conduct the poll, the wording of its questions, the name of the polling firm (Probolsky) and the political bias of its owner–and that he is a contributing columnist for the Register–were all kept secret by Fletcher and her editors, largely at the request of Poseidon.

Poseidon officials refused to reveal the vital details of the bogus poll, but just days before Tuesday’s (Sept. 7) City Council hearing  on the Poseidon project, Poseidon VP Scott Maloni revealed some of the previously secret questions of that poll, confirming the inherent bias of Poseidon’s polling methods that are intended to manipulate respondents to chose the “correct” answers. But Poseidon’s latest poll and its last minute PR stunt were clearly meant to be a thinly veiled threat to all current city council candidates, including sitting Councilmember Joe Carchio, who is running a troubled reelection campaign and needs all the support he can get.

A concrete example of that threat is on Poseidon’s website (emphasis is Poseidon’s):

“By about a three to one margin, Huntington Beach voters are more likely to support than oppose a City Council candidate that supports the desalination project (56.2% more likely to support vs. 17.7% more likely to oppose a candidate supportive of the desalination project).”

As part of a publicity stunt to promote the poll and to strong arm the City Council into passing the Poseidon’s updated Environmental Impact report, plus a long awaited and secretive pipeline franchise agreement and updated Owner Participation Agreement and development permits on tonight’s council agenda, Maloni dropped off over 4,700 postcards “signed by residents of Huntington Beach and Orange County,” according to his accompanying letter to Mayor Cathy Green, that he claimed are “a reflection of the broad support for the project throughout Huntington Beach, as documented by recent public opinion surveys and the project’s growing number of individual and organizational endorsements.”

That “growing” support, Maloni wrote, “shows the need and enthusiasm for a new, drought-proof water supply.”

But a look at the misleading and outright false information used to form the questions in the recent poll and in gathering the signatures for the 4,700 cards, which were examined by the Surf City Voice one-for-one earlier today, shows that the basis for the “growing support” is just that—outright false and misleading information fed to the public by Poseidon with plenty of help enthusiastic help from the Orange County Register.

Here as some examples of factual falsehoods and misleading statements taken directly from the signature cards that Poseidon gathered on the fly at various local events over the past five years from presumably unknowing victims of the company’s propaganda war.

# 1) “The project will provide a permanent, high quality and drought-proof water supply for Orange County.”

Analysis: misleading. — Water conservation and reclamation are the most cost efficient and environmentally sound safe “drought- proof” water supplies known to human kind. More conservation and reclamation (converting sewer water using a virtually identical but even safer form of water purification than Poseidon would use) would provide the water California needs, experts say, without the greatly increased cost of seawater desalination plants like the one Poseidon proposes for Huntington Beach.

#2) The desalination project will provide approximately $2 million in tax revenue going to the public each year.

Analysis: misleading – The actual supposed fee and tax benefits to the city of Huntington Beach over the next 30 years is estimated by the city and Poseidon to be approximately $63,000,000. That’s about $21 million less than the city says it should get, but Poseidon, in order to avoid paying a full utility tax, is calling its plant a pumping operation rather than the water treatment facility that it is.

This revenue estimate assumes that the plant will actually be built and doesn’t include other actual or likely costs to taxpayers, such as the taxpayer funded subsidies needed to construct the project—and offset the high cost of water, also to be paid by taxpayers (at at least 2-4 times the normal rate).

Poseidon "support" cards
Samples of "support" cards Poseidon left at City Hall. Photo: SCV

Based on the history of Poseidon’s Carlsbad desalination proposal (identical in all significant aspects to the proposed Huntington Beach plant) and its proposed Huntington Beach plant, a taxpayer funded base of $630 million would be needed for the plant to exist and operate over 30 years. That leaves a net loss to the taxpayers in general of $567 million. That figure does not include the cost of the $530 tax free State bond Poseidon needs in order to attract the investors, and which it cannot get without the taxpayer funded subsidies.

Technically, those subsidies would go to the individual water agencies that contract with Poseidon for water, but the explicit purpose of those subsidies by all accounts, including Poseidon officials, is actually to offset Poseidon’s construction and operating costs.

#3) The desalination project will be built and operated at “No cost to city or taxpayers; private company puts up the money and takes the risk” and “No risk to taxpayers—Poseidon Resources bears all risks; no public funds will be used.”

Analysis: false – What happens in Carlsbad, where Poseidon Resources seeks to build a desalination plant that is almost identical to its proposed Huntington Beach plant, indicates how the financing of the latter is likely to play out.

Poseidon sought $630 million in combined taxpayer funded subsidies from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) and the San Diego County Water Authority.

Technically, those subsidies would go to the individual water agencies that contract with Poseidon for water, but the explicit purpose of those subsidies by all accounts is actually to offset Poseidon’s construction and operating costs.

In fact, Poseidon publicly pleaded for the subsidies, saying they were needed to qualify for a $530 million tax free state bond and to attract private investors, and that its Carlsbad desalination plant could not be built without them.

At first, $350 million in public money was pledged at $14 million a year over 30 years. But later, after Poseidon said that it needed a combined total (from the two water agencies) of $630 million in taxpayer funded money over 30 years, and after a legal squabble between the the two agencies put the MWD subsidy in question, the Water Authority changed plans. Now, on record as recognizing the project’s financial infeasibility and risk, it is considering an agreement with Poseidon that would require all 26 water agencies under its administrative umbrella to buy Poseidon’s water directly (that would be at costs 2-4 times greater than water from all other sources) while leaving open the likelihood of a public takeover by purchase or default of the plant, which would officially transfer all risks to the public domain.

#4) “The desalination facility will be a ‘carbon neutral project’; one of the first of its kind in California.”

Analysis: false – The Final Adopted Findings for a Request For Revocation of Poseidon’s Coastal Development Permit (Feb. 10, 2010) by the California Coastal Commission for its Carlsbad desalination plant (almost identical to its proposed Huntington Beach plant) found that Poseidon provided false and misleading information to the Commission and that there is no evidence to support the company’s claims that its desalination plant would be greenhouse gas neutral:

“Poseidon failed to explain to the Commission to explain to the Commission that the water it produces will in fact only ‘displace’ imported water if MWD (Metropolitan Water District) is able to reduce its reliance on marginal water supplies that it obtains through the SWP. Poseidon’s representations to the Commission asserted there would be a reliable, one-for-one reduction in water imported to Southern California through the SWP as the result of Poseidon’s project, but this does not appear to be the case.

“In addition, given that MWD will continue to import its full allocation of SWP water, regardless of the impact of Poseidon’ss project, and that it is entitled to such water under a long-term contract with DWR, it is not as clear as Poseidon claimed that water its project ‘displaces,’ but continues to be imported into Southern California, will be subject to CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review. There is no evidence that the water MWD will continue to import to Southern California will be used solely for ‘new’ or ‘expanded’ uses as Poseidon claimed, rather than fulfilling MWD’s existing obligations that it has not fulfilled due to the ongoing water shortage. As a result, and contrary to Poseidon’s claims, there is not clear evidence that CEQA will apply to require mitigation for the GHGs emitted by the ‘additional’ 56,000 acre feet of water pumped into Southern California after Poseidon’s project begins operations.”

The permit was not revoked, however, on the outrageous technicality that the false information wouldn’t have changed the Coastal Commission’s vote anyway.

#5) The Poseidon project will be “fully protective of the marine environment and coastal resources.”

Analysis: false – Studies by various state agencies have made it clear that the accumulative effects of the Once Through Cooling process at coastal power generating plants (the process by which those plants suck in water to cool the plant down and which Poseidon plans to use to acquire seawater for desalination) is so great that the State Water Resources Board has called for shutting down all such systems by 2020 at the latest.

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