Suit filed against sanitary district
Two residents of Sierra Meadows subdivision filed suit recently in the Nevada County courts against the Truckee Sanitary District and its general manager, Ossian Butterfield, claiming damages as a result of the district’s work in 1997 to extend sanitary sewer services to their neighborhood.
Attorney Ruth Ann Ziegler, attorney for the district, confirmed the lawsuit was served Tuesday, Jan. 20. Butterfield was out of town on business this week and unavailable for comment.
Resident claims outlined
The tort claim filed by property-owners Stephen W. Rakich and Matthew S. Mackenzie alleges that “sewers were constructed in about the [neighborhood] in extreme haste, carelessly, recklessly and with wanton negligence.”
The claim further states that the TSD, Butterfield and other district employees “harassed, threatened, intimidated and oppressed the [plaintiffs] into cooperating by immediately connecting to sewers, telling them their homes would be ‘red tagged’ if they refused.”
Attorney Robert Cohune, who is representing the plaintiffs, did not return calls before presstime Wednesday.
State of emergency
Nevada County and Placer County officials declared a state of emergency in the portion of Sierra Meadows where the plaintiffs live on July 22, 1997, requiring the district to install additional sewer lines in the area.
In the Aug. 7, 1997, edition of the Sierra Sun, Nevada County Environmental Health Department Supervisor Norm Greenberg
said the sewer situation became a crisis because of the severe flooding earlier in the year, which brought the water table closer to the surface.
Greenberg said the affected area, which includes Shore Pine, Stone Pine, Golden Pine and Frond roads, has been experiencing septic problems since the 1970s, which have now become a risk to local residents.
Lahontan Regional Quality Control Board reported significant contamination of local water courses and drainages, with high levels of fecal coliform bacteria. County officials noted that a Lahontan staff member became ill in 1997 soon after taking samples from the affected area.
The suit states that Butterfield’s position as chair of Lahontan was a conflict of interest, because Lahontan regulates the operations of the TSD, and has the authority to force the TSD to declare an emergency.
“Butterfield could not get the necessary two-thirds of the 51 parcels within Sierra Meadows Phase 2 to agree to install sewers,” the suit states. “In May 1997 he decided to fabricate existence of an emergency in order to justify their existence over residents’ objections. He directed [a Lahontan staff member] to provide evidence of failed septic systems to justify an emergency. [The staff member] responded with a 1996 survey noting two problem areas attributed to malfunctioning systems, both of which were corrected by 1997.”
After a state of emergency was declared, Lahontan and the other agencies requested TSD to provide sewer service to the 51 parcels in the subdivision. Residents were required to abandon their existing sewer systems, a process which included pumping remaining sewage from septic tanks, destroying the tanks, and then filling them in with soil. They also had to pay the cost of hookup to the new sanitary sewer lines.
Some of the individual septic systems cost up to $15,000 each to install, and their owners were still making payments on them monthly. The plaintiffs in the suit are also seeking to recover the costs of the sewer systems which they say residents were improperly forced to destroy, as well as unspecified damages, attorney fees and court costs. They are also asking for a court order preventing TSD from further action against them.
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Nevada County is now likely to remain in the red tier barring “extenuating circumstances,” thanks to changes to the state’s reopening blueprint announced this week.