Settlement for sewer spill released by water board
A proposed settlement was released Monday that resolves a hefty fine and pending litigation over last summer’s Kings Beach sewage spill.
The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board released a $325,000 settlement that, if accepted by the water board in October, would be part of a global settlement among the water agency and North Tahoe Public Utility District actions against the two property owners and their contractor.
In July 2005, a contractor with Tahoe City-based Pacific Built, Inc., punctured a sewer force main line that dumped a reported 56,000 gallons of raw sewage into Lake Tahoe while building a private pier for two Kings Beach homeowners, Hans and Margaret Coffeng and Claude Geoffrey and Christine Davis.
The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board originally estimated that 120,000 gallons of sewage went into the lake and imposed a $700,000 fine. However, a May Lahontan hearing on the sewage spill revealed that the agency miscalculated the amount and reduced the fine as a result.
The North Tahoe Public Utility District filed a lawsuit against the contractor and homeowners in May for $248,000, to recover the costs the district incurred as a result of the spill.
This July, the hearing continued but the parties involved could not commit to a settlement.
The new $325,000 settlement proposal includes a payment of $26,840 to the State Water Resources Control Board to recover staff costs and $298,160 for a supplemental environmental project that will pay for emergency equipment to be housed by the North Tahoe Public Utility District.
The piece of equipment that Pacific Built and the Coffengs and Davises will buy the utility district is an emergency bypass hose reel system that can be used during emergencies requiring a temporary bypass of sewer facilities in the Lake Tahoe Basin and Truckee areas.
A letter dated Aug. 31 from Bruce Shaffer, attorney for Pacific Built, to Lahontan’s lawyer, states that the cash payment and money for the equipment will be made no later than Nov. 12, and that the district will have to purchase the equipment by Dec. 12. The proposal also states that the utility district will complete training on the equipment for its employees and for employees of other district’s in the basin and Truckee.
“I think it is a fair settlement,” said Robert Dodds, assistant executive officer for Lahontan. “It results in some environmental protection for Lake Tahoe.”
Five sewage, water or sanitation districts wrote letters in August in support of the purchase of the equipment, including the Tahoe City Public Utility District, the Incline Village General Improvement District, the Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency, the Truckee Sanitary District and the South Tahoe Public Utility District.
Steve Rogers, general manager of the utility district, said he could not comment on specifics of the settlement because the litigation is pending, but said the settlement would cover the cost of the equipment rather than the initial intent of the lawsuit, which was to recover costs incurred by the district during the emergency.
“The district’s goal throughout this process is policy changes and to find a win-win situation,” Rogers said.
Julie Regan, communications director for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, said the agency’s legal committee of the board will discuss the proposal at its meeting Sept. 26.
“Our request to the Lahontan board was to allow any funds required to go back in to the lake,” Regan said. “Our hope was that some money would be used to protect the lake and that appears that is happening.”
However, John Friedrich, program director for the League to Save Lake Tahoe, said he thought the money should go to environmental restoration of the lake.
“It doesn’t appear that the settlement would even cover the North Tahoe Public Utility District’s cleanup cost, much less the cost to Kings Beach business owners and the larger community, as well as Lake Tahoe itself,” Friedrich said.
The water board will vote on the settlement at its regularly scheduled meeting on Oct. 11 and 12 in Kings Beach.
The public can comment on the settlement proposal and should be submitted to the water board’s prosecution team by Oct. 11 to be considered by the water board.
Copies of the settlement proposal can be reviewed at the water board’s South Lake Tahoe office or by calling 542-5400.
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