Tahoe City utility to appraise water system | SierraSun.com

Tahoe City utility to appraise water system

Ryan Salm/Sierra SunThe Tahoe City Public Utility District accepted a petition to take over the Lake Forest Water System from nearly 70 percent of the Lake Forest homeowners. The utility voted to spend up to $25,000 to appraise the water system.

What started out as a water-rate and water-quality issue has turned into a fire-protection problem.

And the Tahoe City Public Utility District is taking steps to address concerns on the part of Lake Forest Water Company customers.

Earlier this month Lake Forest homeowners and renters submitted to the Tahoe City Public Utility District a petition requesting the district take over the private water company that serves them. Signatures from more than 70 percent of the 100-plus property owners were collected.

“We need a public agency involved,” said Wally Auerbach, a Lake Forest homeowner and engineer who helped spearhead the petition, in a phone interview.

In a meeting Thursday evening, the utility district board of directors accepted the petition and voted to spend up to $25,000 to have the private water system appraised.

The district is working with the county assessor to confirm the signatures as valid.

The Lake Forest Water Company, operated by Rick Dewante, has been under fire for months from allegations of inadequate water quality and emergency service. Dewante has since switched from providing lake water to a temporary connection with the utility district in February.

But following the devastation of the Angora Fire in South Lake Tahoe, Lake Forest homeowners say they are concerned with their neighborhood’s safety.

“We pay for suppression … We need something in that area that gives us hope,” Lake Forest resident Logan Carnell told the utility district board Thursday. “It’s a very dangerous situation.”

Dewante agrees that fire suppression would become an issue if Lake Forest were to have a fire similar to Angora, but said that, in fact, there are three hydrants in the area.

“To get proper [water] flow, the lines have to be updated,” Dewante said.

Dewante also runs Tahoe Park and Skyland Nielson water companies on the West Shore, both which have allegedly had water contamination and supply problems.

Dewante was not present at Thursday’s meeting but in a phone interview Friday said he would prefer to address the concerns of his customers himself.

“I always wanted to rebuild the system, get the grant, that’s my goal. I still want to do it for the least cost to the customers, and I think I’m in the best position to do that,” he said.

Dewante said he is still planning to meet with Lake Forest homeowners this summer to present his plans for improving the water system, the associated costs and to get residents’ feedback.

At this point, the value of the water system and the estimated cost to acquire the system are unknown, but district staff, the board and some Lake Forest residents agree that the entire system requires a makeover.

“The assumption is the whole system has to be rebuilt,” said Cindy Gustafson, utility district assistant general manager.

Auerbach agrees.

“The system is worthless except for some water rights,” he said.

If the system does indeed need to be entirely rebuilt, the district estimates the cost around $1.6 million.

But funding to acquire the system is still in question.

“The next step here is we hire an engineer and possibly an appraiser … to estimate the value of the water system,” said board Director Ron Treabess.

The board voted unanimously Thursday and directed district staff to move forward to appraise the water system, a cost of up to $25,000 the district is willing to face.

Staff will update the board of directors at the next meeting, where making an offer, costs and a forming an assessment district may be discussed.

The Tahoe City Public Utility District board of directors discussed issues surrounding the Lake Forest private water system, homeowners’ request to take them over and the associated costs. Here’s what some of them had to say:

– “In the end we have to come back to them and say, ‘This is what it’s going to cost, how do we want to pay for it?'” said board Director Erik Henrikson.

– “We’re really only at the very beginning … we’ll be in 2009 before we even decide we’re replacing this thing,” said board Director Kelly Atchley.

– “None of us know what the dollar amount of this risk money is,” said board Director Dan Wilkins.

– “Let’s show good faith to the customers, they pay their taxes,” said board Director Lou Reinkens.

– “We’re doing it to explore the opportunity to improve the community water system,” said board Director Ron Treabess.

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