Final decision on Northstar fine postponed | SierraSun.com

Final decision on Northstar fine postponed

Greyson Howard
Sierra Sun

A $2.75 million settlement with a Northstar developer over numerous water quality violations is still pending.

The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board decided to not take action on the settlement Wednesday night that could fine Northstar Mountain Properties $2.75 million for water quality violations during the 2006 construction season.

The decision came after the water board staff requested more time to hammer out the deal and the board agreed that keeping some money in the Northstar community should also be considered.

If approved by the board, it will Lahontan’s largest settlement, and the largest in the state by a regional water quality control board.

“These violations could have been entirely prevented,” said Eric Taxer, water resource control engineer. “There is a history of non-compliance here.”

He said violations began with work on the Village at Northstar in 2004 with 11 violations, and 13 in 2005.

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“The project sites were left in a condition that was a significant threat to water quality, and in fact that threat became a reality,” Taxer said.

Again in 2006 numerous violations were noted, and a clean-up and abatement order was issued, which was then violated, Taxer said.

“In hindsight we tried to complete too much in one short summer building season,” said Blake Riva, Managing Partner with East West Partners. “We acknowledge mistakes were made.”

But Riva said Northstar Mountain Properties turned things around in 2007, and Taxer agreed.

“They were able to go through 2007 and this construction season with out a single violation,” Taxer said.

Lahontan staff began to work with Northstar Mountain Properties towards a settlement over the violations, Taxer said, landing on a $2.75 million fine, down from a $12.6 million maximum potential liability.

The proposed settlement would send $600,000 to the state water board, and $2.15 million to environmental work in the 1,467-acre Waddle Ranch preserved last year by the Truckee Donner Land Trust, he said.

Work in Waddle Ranch would be focused on reducing erosion, said Michael Hogan, soil scientist and president of Tahoe City-based Integrated Environmental Restoration Services.

The project would not only benefit Waddle Ranch, but the lessons learned there would help create a handbook on forest management, fuels reduction, and water quality, Hogan said.

Representatives of the Truckee Donner Land Trust, the Truckee Tahoe Airport, Truckee River Watershed Council and Mountain Area Preservation Foundation all spoke in favor of the settlement and subsequent project.

“If there is an injury it’s only appropriate to apply treatment in the same area,” said John Eaton of the Mountain Area Preservation Foundation.

But representatives of the Northstar community wanted some of the money to stay even closer to home.

Mike Staudenmayer, Northstar Community Services District general manager, Geoff Stephens, general manager of the Northstar Property Owners Association and Northstar Fire Chief Mark Shadowens all argued that there are deserving projects at Northstar.

“You are taking all the money out of the area the violation occurred,” Shadowens said.

The water board set no date for the final decision on the water quality fine.