Agencies talk instead of litigate |

Agencies talk instead of litigate

Patrick McCartney

Officials with a South Shore utility have chosen negotiations rather than litigation in their ongoing dispute with local water-quality regulators over $50,000 in fines.

The deadline passed Friday for the South Tahoe Public Utility District to ask a court to overturn the penalties imposed last year by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.

In a conciliatory action, Lahontan extended the statute of limitations by 90 days, giving both sides time to work out their differences in a series of meetings.

“The extension gives both sides a well deserved time-out to discuss our shared concerns and interests,” said Dawn Forsythe, the district’s spokeswoman.

Lahontan levied the civil fines in response to two leaks of treated wastewater in the fall of 1996 during construction of the district’s new export pipeline, which carries treated effluent out of the Tahoe Basin to Alpine County.

District officials fought the disciplinary action, saying the leaks were unavoidable accidents that occurred when the new pipeline was being tested. They contended that Lahontan was quick to fine the public agency for spills that caused no significant environmental damage, yet had not taken swift action to order the cleanup of leaking underground fuel from gas stations that threatened district drinking water wells.

The district appealed the fines to the regional regulator’s parent body, the State Water Resources Control Board, which rejected the appeal last month. In all, the district spent more than $50,000 in its fight against the penalties, which was to be paid by the contractor in charge of the pipeline project.

In an executive session two weeks ago, the South Tahoe utility voted to seek a reconciliation with Lahontan before seeking a legal remedy. Since then, staff from the two agencies talked four times, according to Harold Singer, Lahontan’s executive officer.

“We feel the discussions we have had to date have been promising. We have some common ground,” Singer said. “We would like to continue the dialogue to see if there can be some resolution short of their litigating.”

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