City fined for grease trap
A contractor’s mistake could cost the city of South Lake Tahoe about $10,000 in fines or mitigation measures for violation of water quality standards at the Lake Tahoe Airport.
The violation occurred last November when Tom Haen Construction, a local company hired by the city to install a grease interceptor device, unintentionally connected the kitchen wastewater line from the Tailspin Restaurant to the stormwater pipe.
For the next six months, the blunder went unnoticed and wastewater coming from the restaurant’s kitchen sink, floor drain and dishwasher was being fed into the Upper Truckee River, Lake Tahoe’s largest tributary.
City Manager David Childs said the problem was discovered by city employees and reported immediately to the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, a state agency that regulates water standards.
“It’s really unfortunate because we don’t feel there was much, if any, impact on the environment and we’re doubtful it ever even got to the end of the pipe,” Childs said.
In addition, routine water testing at the airport failed to show the contamination.
“I think we were good citizens in reporting it immediately once it was discovered,” Childs added. “We’re trying to be very cooperative.”
Under Lahontan standards the city, as owner of the land, is responsible even though the mistake was made by the contractor.
In June, Lahontan proposed a $12,000 fine for the city but later reconsidered, reducing the amount to $10,000.
The regional board will consider the new fine at its board meeting Oct. 12 and 13.
Lauri Kemper, Lahontan’s chief of the Lake Tahoe watershed, said the amount was reduced because the flow was estimated to be so little.
“It was a small flow over a six month period – 173 days and 2,460 gallons total but about 1,000 gallons were retained by the grease interceptor,” Kemper said.
Instead of paying the fine, the city could perform an environmental mitigation project approved by the regional board.
Airport manager Rick Jenkins said the city is proposing a plan to do survey work along the Upper Truckee River between Elks Club Road and the north end of the airport property to ready the area for later restoration projects.
Lahontan is still assessing the city’s proposal, making sure the work would be “useful” to other agencies, such as the California Tahoe Conservancy, that plan to do environmental improvements along the river.
Kemper said the city could either waive its hearing right and pay the fine in whole or perform the mitigation, if it is approved by Lahontan.
The city has not decided if it will ask the contractor to contribute payment for its mistake, Childs said.
“We’re waiting to think about that until after it’s resolved,” he said. “It seems to me, the next step would be making that decision.”
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