Settlement talks falter in Lake Tahoe fireworks suit
March 26, 2014
Settlement talks have failed in a lawsuit alleging the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority is violating the Clean Water Act with its twice-annual fireworks shows and debris from the spectacular shows falling into the lake. That raises questions about whether there will be any fireworks shows this year in South Lake Tahoe.
"We felt that anything being offered was not in the best interests of the lake, and that's our highest priority, protecting the health of the lake," Joan Truxler said about the impasse in the voluntary settlement talks.
Truxler and her husband, Joseph, of PineWild on Marla Bay, filed their lawsuit last November, alleging that large amounts of fireworks debris washed ashore in Marla Bay following a July 4 fireworks show and again following a Labor Day show in September.
The lawsuit argues that the fireworks shows are a point source of pollution as defined by the federal Clean Water Act. It further argues the visitors authority must get a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from either the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection or Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board to hold the shows.
Truxler said the lawsuit, which names the LTVA and Pyro Spectaculars North, which put on the show, was filed only as a last resort after the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and other agencies failed to acknowledge or address concerns about the fireworks debris. She added neither she nor her husband stand to benefit financially if they prevail.
"It was out of frustration, and the fact that (Tahoe Regional Planning Agency) said they were working on the issue, then Labor Day came and boom, it happened all over again," Truxler said.
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The Truxlers say they and other neighbors collected more than 8,000 pieces of fireworks debris that washed ashore on Marla Bay beaches as a result of the two shows.
The lawsuit was first referred to a voluntary dispute resolution process. The visitors authority, which has not yet replied to the Truxlers' complaint, has described its cleanup efforts after the fireworks shows as extensive and said they involved netting from boats, divers in the water and beach cleanup crews.
While the lawsuit does seek to require the visitors authority to get a pollutant-discharge permit for its fireworks shows, there is no injunction in place to prevent it from holding shows, Truxler said.
"We don't want to stop the shows. We don't want the shows canceled. We just want responsible cleanup after the shows. We want a legally enforceable permit for the shows that allows public input into cleanup efforts."
Other groups, including the city of South Lake Tahoe, are raising the specter of no fireworks shows this year in South Lake Tahoe because of the pending lawsuit.
"The issue of residual debris can be solved, unlike the devastating economic impact of canceling our nationally recognized fireworks show on the heels of the driest winter on record," City Manager Nancy Kerry said, calling the potential loss of the fireworks shows "in a word, unnecessary."
"The solution of debris can be achieved through improved clean-up efforts, which requires funding, which again can be obtained from events such as the fireworks show," Kerry said. "I've reached out to the Truxlers and their lawyer and offered assistance to develop a solution that doesn't involve canceling the show, which would require their withdrawal of the lawsuit."
The lawsuit states that violators of the Clean Water Act face civil penalties of up to $37,500 per violation. It further alleges each of the 200 or more mortar tubes used for each of the fireworks shows over the last five years is a separate violation under the law.
With settlement talks failed, the lawsuit presumably will proceed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento.
Carol Chaplin, executive director of the LTVA, declined to comment on the case. An update on the lawsuit and its ramifications on this year's fireworks shows is the focus of an emergency LTVA board of directors meeting Thursday, Chaplin said. That meeting starts at 4 p.m. and is open to the public.