Tahoe sewage spill racks up $700K in fines
Staff reportsA $700,000 fine was announced Thursday for the 120,000-gallon spill that sent raw sewage into Lake Tahoe in July and crippled North Shore tourism for weeks. The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board has proposed a $700,000 penalty, which could have been as high as $1.2 million, for the two property owners involved and the contractor they hired to build a pier in Kings Beach, according to a release from the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.The Administrative Civil Liability complaint is for the untreated sewage that erupted from under the Tahoe lake bed when the contractor’s pile driver punched a hole in a buried sewer pipe just offshore from Kings Beach.The spill occurred on July 19, when Pacific Built punctured a 14-inch sewer force main owned by the North Tahoe Public Utility District while driving a pile for a pier support. Pressurized sewage spewed into Lake Tahoe for about five hours, but much of it was trapped and returned to the sewer system, according to the water quality control board.However, enough pollution reached the waters of Lake Tahoe that local North Tahoe beaches had to be closed for 10 to 16 days. The complaint states that the maximum penalty for the incident could be more than $1 million but that the reasonable penalty is about 60 percent of that amount, according to the release.Named in the complaint are C. Geoffrey and Christine Davis and Hans and Margaret Coffeng, the two property owners, and the contractor they employed to build a pier, Pacific Built Inc.The complaint also states that Pacific Built failed to check with Underground Service Alert of Northern California before beginning construction. Such a check represents “a typical standard of care to locate underground utilities prior to commencing an excavation activity,” according to the Water Quality Control Board.However, the complaint also notes that the construction company employees offered their help and equipment to the North Tahoe Public Utility District in the hours after the pipe was punctured.”It was an unfortunate incident. If they had to pay it, they would go out of business,” said Drew Briner, lawyer for Pacific Built. “Pacific Built is a reputable contractor. They have provided good services to the community. It would be a shame for them to have to pay this.”This is the first action taken by any agency regarding the sewage spill, according to Briner.The property owners and contractor face a hearing within 90 days. If the proposed penalty is imposed, the money will be paid to the Waste Discharge Permit Fund to protect the state’s water quality. As for recouping costs for response to the spill and repair of the sewage line, Robert Dodds, assistant executive director of the water quality control board, said “It’s going to vary from agency to agency.””The North Tahoe Public Utility District, to my knowledge, is pursuing reimbursement directly with the parties,” he said.The two property owners and the contractor will have to decide how to split the $700,000 fine, Dodds said.- Sierra Sun reporter David Bunker and Sun News Service reporter Kara Fox contributed to this report.
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