Tahoe water company users join revolt
October 2, 2007
Rick Dewante already had a revolt on his hands from nearly 100 users of his Lake Forest water district, when the second of the three water districts he manages started circulating a petition to secede.
The organization of some of the 500 Tahoe Park homeowners that are served by Dewante’s water company deepens a convoluted standoff between Dewante, many of his customers and the Tahoe City Public Utility District that began in earnest nearly a year ago.
Lake Forest water users are already deep into a process that many hope will land them in the hands of the public water provider.
And Tahoe Park is following close behind.
“We’re basically following the template Lake Forest set,” said Gerald Rockwell, a Tahoe Park resident who is working on the petition. “It’s just not something I believe a private company should be running,” said Rockwell of the local water system. “It’s not a candy shop. If you don’t like the candy, you can buy it somewhere else.”
The matter is confused by the fact that the state public utility commission doesn’t recognize Rick Dewante as the rightful owner of the water system, despite his acting as the owner and manager for the last decade.
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On Tuesday, an administrative law judge with the California Public Utility Commission made a trip to Tahoe City to discuss the ownership of the water companies, and still were unable to resolve the issue.
The matter appears headed to a hearing ” since both the newly formed Lake Forest Public Water Advocates and the Tahoe City Public Utility District oppose the transfer of ownership to Dewante.
Officials with the Tahoe City utility said the ownership change would further muddy the efforts to permanently solve the problems with the troubled water system ” which the Tahoe City Public Utility District already provides water to and is investigating purchasing.
“There is no fire flow. There is a boil-water order. There are interruptions of service,” said Paul Minasian, legal counsel for the Tahoe City Public Utility District. “The system is in such a state of deterioration … that we have been asked by the [owner] to provide water.”
Despite the discrepancies over ownership, Dewante has operated the three water districts since a decade ago when owner David Robertson attempted to transfer ownership to him. Dewante will go to a state hearing in November, where he hopes to win official ownership of the companies. Meanwhile, he said, he’s working on fixing his water systems.
Dewante said he is applying for a $430,000 grant from the California Department of Health Services to drill a well in Lake Forest, so the system can operate independently of Tahoe City district water.
Meanwhile, Dewante plans to embark on a $845,000 project to replace water mains in Lake Forest, financed by a private bank loan, according to a newsletter he is distributing.
The upgrades will be enough, he hopes, coupled with the cost that water users will have to bear to improve the system if they want to be added to the utility district’s service, to change his customers’ minds.
“In my mind they are not aware of the huge cost it will be to be acquired by the PUD,” said Dewante.
The Tahoe City Public Utility District should know within two or three months what it will cost Lake Forest water users to join the utility district’s water system. General Manager Bob Lourey said the district believes the cost will be between $1.7 and $2 million to upgrade the system, but an engineer will appraise the value of the system soon.
A General Improvement District would have to be approved by a two-thirds vote to finance the upgrades. The district expects to make a “friendly offer” to Dewante for the water system once the costs are known, Lourey said.
“You have to look at what the costs will be in the long run and hope that the public option will be less,” said Wally Auerbach, a Lake Forest resident who represented the Lake Forest Public Water Advocates on Tuesday.
And whether the request by Tahoe Park residents for public ownership is close behind depends on the results of the petition drive. But the utility district has the capacity to provide water to Tahoe Park, said Lourey.
“I think we would be much better off working with a local agency that lives with us, is concerned with us, and has the ability to take care of us,” said Rockwell.