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Retirement looms for longtime Santa Rosa utilities, parks chiefs

The directors of two of the largest Santa Rosa city departments will be retiring in December.

Miles Ferris, director of the Utilities Department, steps down Dec. 12, and Marc Richardson, director of Recreation and Parks, will retire 10 days later.

Both men have worked for the city for 27 years.

Ferris was hired in 1985 to run a department in crisis. The city's wastewater treatment plant had just released 750 million of treated wastewater into the Russian River, earning Santa Rosa the moniker “Sewage City.”

Residents of surrounding communities didn't hide their outrage. “Manure Man” dumped a load of waste in front of Santa Rosa City Hall. Windows were shot out at the Llano Road treatment plant. And police stood guard over the endless meetings about how to fix the problem.

The spill helped persuade state water quality regulators to require Santa Rosa to develop a disposal system independent of weather conditions.

Today, instead of 1,000 sewage spills a year, last year the department had just one, Ferris told the council.

And instead of disposing wastewater into the Laguna de Santa Rosa, today 98 percent is recycled. Most is pumped through the $205 million pipeline to The Geysers where 13 billion gallons is injected into the geothermal fields annually to create renewable energy.

Ferris called The Geysers one of the “finest disposal projects imaginable” said praised Santa Rosa for doing the right thing.

“That occurred because we had a great community and elected leaders that weren't afraid to take serious votes, even when it was extremely unpopular to do so,” Ferris said.

They were unpopular because the system upgrades triggered sharply higher water and sewer rates, which in Santa Rosa have more than doubled in the past decade.

During his tenure, the treatment plant was expanded and modernized to handle the sewage of Cotati, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, as well as some unincorporated areas of the county.

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