Chain of errors led to Tahoe sewage spill
August 5, 2005
KINGS BEACH (AP) – A chain of errors, including a mistaken claim that a stretch of Lake Tahoe shoreline was not public property, contributed to a large sewage spill that closed five North Shore beaches, the Sacramento Bee reported Friday.
In 2002, Placer County mistakenly disowned the 5.9 acre beach, paving the way for two Kings Beach families to build a private pier that otherwise would have been prohibited if the beach were publicly owned, the newspaper reported.
The spill occurred July 19, when Pacific Built, a private contractor, punctured a 14-inch main while installing pilings for the pier, spewing 120,000 gallons of raw sewage onto the beaches and into the water.
Most of the beaches at the height of the summer tourist season were closed for more than a week.
Officials with the North Tahoe Public Utilities District have said the contractor did not call about the location of underground utilities before proceeding, as required by state law.
But the Sacramento Bee report suggests the chain of events began in 2002, when Placer County mistakenly relinquished ownership of the beach owned by the county for nearly a century.
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The newspaper, citing court records, said Gerald Carden, chief deputy county counsel, told a planning consultant hired by the homeowners that Placer County didn’t own the beach.
“I can confirm for you that the county claims no ownership interest in the parcel erroneously identified as county property,” Carden wrote.
In May 2003, he rescinded the remark in a letter to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
“Although my mistake was regrettable, it does not change the ownership interest that the county obtained in 1913,” Carden wrote.
But the error was costly.
The Davises sued Placer County earlier this year, claiming the about-face harmed their efforts to get a pier permit.
In a settlement, Placer County agreed to give the Davises the beach in front of their home, in exchange for allowing continued public access. The Coffengs were given the same, though they did not sue.
“The ownership issue is really not that important,” Deputy County Counsel Mark Rathe told the Bee. “It’s the public right of access that’s really key to the county.”
Michael Donohoe of the Tahoe Area Sierra Club disagrees.
“Here we have this gorgeous lake and we’re spending lots of money to restore it,” he said, “and yet we’re bending over backward to accommodate these private piers.
“That’s not good stewardship for this treasure that we have up here,” he said.