$325,000 fine proposed in Kings Beach sewage spill
Tahoe’s water quality regulators will likely decide this month whether to fine two lakefront homeowners and their contractor $325,000 for their alleged role in a sewage spill that closed North Shore beaches for several weeks last summer.
In May, the Lahontan Water Board scrapped an initial $700,000 proposed fine and told Lahontan staff to revise their complaint against Hans and Margaret Coffeng, Claude Geoffrey Davis and Christine Davis, and their contractor Pacific Built.
The fine was lowered after a May public hearing indicated the amount of sewage spilled was at least half original estimates. The current estimate is 56,000 gallons.
Lahontan Water Board will hold a two-day public hearing on the spill July 25 and 26 at South Lake Tahoe City Council chambers at the Lake Tahoe Airport.
Pacific Built allegedly did not call a number that would have indicated there was a sewage line in the vicinity, and on July 19, 2005, punctured a 14-inch sewage main while constructing a pier for the property owners.
The maximum fine the board can impose is $10 per gallon, or $560,000, according to Lahontan division director Lauri Kemper.
“Staff is recommending $325,000. The board can affirm, modify or reject it,” Kemper said. The accused parties must pay the fine within a month, or appeal to the state water board and then to a court of law.
The Davises and Coffeng each own 4,000-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-bath lakefront homes. The Davises’ home was built in 2003 and has an assessed value of $2.9 million, according to the Placer County Assessor’s office.
Any fine paid to Lahontan would go into a general fund to pay for water board operating expenses.
Mark Hudak, counsel for the Davis and Coffeng families, said his clients should not be held responsible for the spill since they were not aware of the location of the sewer main line.
He noted that signs indicating utility lines were located in front of the house on Highway 28, but not on the beach. There was also no indication of a sewer line easement on the property owners’ titles, according to Hudak.
“The title companies blew it. They should pay, but they won’t,” Hudak said. “The homeowners are in a difficult situation here. It’s a continuing nightmare for the homeowners. They shouldn’t be punished for something that wasn’t in their control.”
Tahoe City attorney Drew Briner said his client, Pacific Built, should also not be liable for the spill. He said paying the penalty would put the family-owned company in the region out of business.
“Pacific Built has been operating at a loss for the past three years,” Briner said.
He said Pacific Built performed two site reviews before beginning construction and there were no signs or markers indicating there was a sewer main line on the beach.
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