Sewer line ownership delayed after backlash
Responding to public concern and criticism, the North Tahoe Public Utility District board of directors voted last week to delay shifting the responsibility for a property’s sewer lateral to the owner.
The board adopted already adopted an ordinance on the sewer lateral ownership in December of 2007, but decided to delay until May 1 the property owner’s responsibility for any necessary testing, repair or replacement of the lateral sewer line beyond their property line.
“[The public] brought up good points,” said board President Lane Lewis in a phone interview Tuesday. “The good thing about our board, we listen to the public.”
District staff will use the time to research pipeline testing methods and compare North Tahoe’s ordinance to other local agencies, such as the South Tahoe Public Utility District, that have also enacted such ordinances.
“We wanted to look at some of the other agencies and look at their ordinances to see if there’s anything we need to add to ours,” Lewis said.
Ordinance 371 amended the ownership of sewer laterals, holding individual property owners responsible for the entire pipeline connecting a residence to the sewer main. The district’s board first discussed the lateral ordinance in July 2007, reacting to the state’s Waste Discharge Requirements that call for stricter reporting of wastewater overflows.
Under the state requirements, the district must report any spill caused by a blockage in a publicly owned sewer pipe. If the district maintains ownership of the sewer laterals, the public agency would be held liable for any spill in the lateral even if it was caused by the homeowner.
The number and frequency of reportable incidents will affect the district’s liability, according to a written statement released by the district. That liability will eventually impact all ratepayers within the service area, the statement said.
“[The residents] control what they put down the line, and everything else,” Lewis said. “We felt it should be their responsibility.”
Lewis said the board approved the ordinance because they felt the entire district shouldn’t be held liable for one homeowner’s abuse of their pipes. But the ordinance has since received criticism and public backlash.
“The district is currently raising the sewer and water fees, and yet passing on the maintenance and testing of the sewer laterals to the property owners,” said district resident Brad Leary, in a written statement submitted to the board of directors. “This appears to me to be increased taxation without justification.”
In a phone interview Tuesday, Leary, a contractor, said he felt the district did not think their decision through and did not give the public enough information or opportunity to respond.
The Tahoe Board of Realtors also opposes the ordinance, said Legislative Advocate John Falk. While property owners have clear control over their property, once the lateral crosses their property line, maintenance of a sewer lateral would become an “entangled process.”
“Once you get beyond the individual property line, it is appropriate for the sewer collecting entity, in this case the [utility district], to then bear the responsibility for whatever work has to be accomplished,” Falk said.
Falk commended the board for delaying the ordinance, but said he will continue to oppose it.
“It is our great hope that this deferral to a later date will be, as the weight of evidence becomes apparent to [the board], will actually become a reversal,” Falk said.
The board of directors will continue to discuss Ordinance 371 at its February meeting.
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