North Tahoe sewer lateral ownership overturned
The North Tahoe Public Utility District board of directors surrendered to public complaints and criticisms at their meeting Tuesday and rescinded Ordinance 371, which would have given district property owners full responsibility over their entire sewer lateral.
Board member Sue Daniels made the motion to take back the ordinance, which was originally adopted in December 2007. Daniels’ move received widespread applause from the audience who attended the public hearing.
“That is the heart and soul of what we are,” Daniels said. “The public utility district is supposed to take on the tasks to take sewage out of the Basin.”
The ordinance, which would have held individual property owners responsible for the entire pipeline that connects their residence to the sewer main, was drafted in reaction to the state’s Waste Discharge Requirements. The state legislation calls for stricter reporting of wastewater overflows where the district must report any spill caused by a blockage in a publicly owned sewer pipe.
The ordinance was intended to protect the district from any increased liability that would be affected by the number and frequency of reported sewer spills.
“This comes from legislation and having to report these spills,” said board President Lane Lewis, who was the sole member of the board to vote against Daniels’ motion.
But the district’s property owners said they felt the ordinance was a way for the district to avoid responsibility.
“From the public side, it just seems the [public utility district] is trying to shirk it’s responsibility,” said Peter Morris at the meeting. “It appears that in order to avoid reporting, you’re trying to hand it over to the private sector.”
Jennifer Merchant of the Placer County’s executive office said the county was concerned the ordinance would place too much of a burden on property owners, especially if a lateral needs repair beyond the private property line and in the public’s right of way, which would require extensive permitting.
“We would prefer that you rescind the ordinance,” Merchant said. “We respectfully request that that would occur.”
Real estate agents also criticized the district for implementing such an ordinance, which would have required testing prior to closing escrow on any district property.
“I’m sorry, but this is just about the biggest cop out a government can do,” said Jeff Hurst, who said he represented 10 to 15 concerned real estate agents.
After listening to the public, several board members agreed that the ordinance was implemented without thinking it through. The board had originally postponed the implementation of Ordinance 371 at their meeting last month.
“I think we made a hasty decision,” said board director Frank Mooney.
Board Director John Bergmann said the district never implemented the ordinance to avoid responsibility. However, he felt the way the ordinance was drafted was not suitable for the North Tahoe district.
“What’s good for Incline, what’s good for South Lake Tahoe may not be good for North Lake Tahoe,” Bergmann said. Utility districts in Incline Village and South Lake Tahoe have implemented similar ordinances.