Fading Monte Rio tries again to solve sewage woes

  • Crystal Withers, along with her sister Summer, opened Mama Java next to the Northwood Golf Course in Monte Rio.

A citizens group is taking on the daunting task of trying to solve the sewer problems plaguing Monte Rio, a historic crossroads burg that is in danger of disappearing.

"The downtown commercial area, it is definitely a ghost town," said Dan Fein, coordinator of the Monte Rio Wastewater Task Group. "It would be more of a ghost town, but we tore down some of the buildings."

The town greets visitors with a sign arching over the roadway that reads "Welcome to Monte Rio, Vacation Wonderland."

But what was once a bustling downtown with some 30 businesses has dwindled to a handful, excluding the remains resorts.

You can still get a cup of coffee at the Rio Theater and groceries at Bartlett's Market, or venture just outside downtown to Mama Java.

"It's sad, it is disappointing for such a great little community, there are a lot of real nice people around here," said Crystal Withers, co-owner of Mama Java, which is near the Northwood Golf Course. "I have a nice little nook here. We are connecting into the other buildings, there is a barber next door."

It all goes back to the septic issue, said Kathleen Kane, executive director of the Sonoma County Community Development Commission.

"The downtown has definitely seen businesses closed and buildings demolished and not rebuilt due to a large extent a lack of a wastewater disposal system," Kane said.

The latest casualty is The Pink Elephant, a popular bar and restaurant that closed in November after its owner decided replacing the septic system was too costly.

"We received complaints of that restaurant-bar and its on-site system," said John Short, a senior engineer for the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. "We were not responsible for closing them, but we were investigating them."

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