Board to consider $700,000 fine for Tahoe sewage spill
KINGS BEACH (AP) – California regulators this week will consider a $700,000 fine for a massive sewage spill at Lake Tahoe last summer.
If imposed by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board when it meets today in Kings Beach, it would be one of the largest penalties ever levied for an environmental violation at the lake.
Facing the fine along with Pacific Built Inc. are Kings Beach property owners C. Geoffrey and Christine Davis, and Hans and Margaret Coffeng.
“It’s very serious because of the magnitude of sewage that actually discharged into Lake Tahoe,” said Chuck Curtis, a supervising engineer with Lahontan.
The spill occurred last July 19 when Pacific Built workers accidentally punctured an underground sewer main in Kings Beach on Lake Tahoe’s north shore. They were installing a private pier for the property owners.
Officials estimated 120,000 gallons of raw sewage spewed onto the beach and into the lake for about five hours before crews were able to stop it.
The spill closed a popular string of Lake Tahoe beaches for 10 days during the height of the tourist season.
As permit holders for the pier project, the property owners are ultimately responsible for all actions related to the spill, according to Lahontan’s complaint.
The contractors failed to call Underground Service Alert for a free visit to mark underground utility lines before commencing construction, the complaint adds.
Lawyer Drew Briner, who represents Pacific Built, said the proposed fine was excessive and the company could not afford to pay it.
“Pacific Built provides a valuable service,” Briner told the Sierra Sun in April. “It would be a shame to see them go out of business.”
Lahontan officials argue the penalty is justified because the spill jeopardized the health of beach users and polluted Lake Tahoe.
The fine will go to a fund which pays for all state and regional water board activities, including staff salaries, inspections and spill response, Curtis said.
Sewage is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, nutrients that fuel algae growth that is helping to diminish Lake Tahoe’s clear, blue waters.
Under California law, the parties responsible could be subject to as much as a $1.2 million fine.
– Tribune staff writer Amanda Fehd contributed to this report.
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