November 13, 2010 11:00 AM
Brooke Edwards

VICTORVILLE • Though Victorville has repeatedly promised federal officials that its wastewater treatment plant would create 12 jobs, city documents show only three people are employed at the plant now.

Questions over job creation are at the center of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ recent decision to terminate Victorville’s EB-5 Regional Center. That program allowed the city to accept $500,000 loans from foreign citizens to finance construction of its wastewater plant, so long as those loans could be tied to establishing 10 local jobs.

The federal agency isn’t buying that 400 new jobs at Dr Pepper Snapple Group and Plastipak can be attributed to the city’s wastewater plant.

Attorney David Hirson, who’s assisting with the city’s EB-5 program, disagrees with that position. Regardless, he argued USCIS had no grounds for disputing at least the 12 workers Victorville said the plant itself would employ.

But a staff report included in the 1,014-page agenda for Tuesday night’s City Council meeting states just three people are working at the plant.

When asked about the discrepancy, Economic Development Director Keith Metzler told spokeswoman Yvonne Hester that the higher figure provided to USCIS “also reflects indirect jobs generated that is allowable under the EB-5 program.”

However, a chart provided several times to the federal agency outlining job creation lists 12 positions under direct sewer jobs, with no full positions under the indirect or induced categories.

“It directly involves 12 people to operate it,” economist John Husing stated in his city-commissioned report, sent to USCIS in response to the agency’s second termination notice in August. And a city-generated report included in that response states “12 permanent jobs will be needed to operate the wastewater facility in 2010,” even calling that number a “conservative estimate.”

Metzler also argued in the e-mailed response that the plant isn’t yet operating at full capacity, treating just 1.1 million gallons of wastewater per day rather than the 2.2 million gallons Victorville expected to be getting paid for.

But an industry insider who’s reviewed the largely automated plant extensively said there’s no way it should employ more than four or five people. And so even if flows double, he couldn’t understand how the number of needed employees could come close to approaching the promised 12.

Victorville is still preparing its appeal of the USCIS termination under a Nov. 22 deadline, in desperate need of the funding. And if that termination is upheld, the city could take its battle to federal court.

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Brooke Edwards may be reached at (760) 955-5358 or at bedwards@VVDailyPress.com.