Green light for pipeline funding |

Green light for pipeline funding

Patrick McCartney

The chairman of a key congressional subcommittee said Thursday he will target $7.25 million in environmental funds to assist the South Tahoe Public Utility District to replace its aging wastewater export line.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, said he would include the grant for the 1998 fiscal year in a funding bill that the appropriations committee he chairs will consider next week, according to Rep. John Doolittle, R-Roseville.

“Jerry approached me on the floor of the House today and told me we are going to get money for the pipeline,” Doolittle informed district officials in a conference call.

“I can’t tell you how big our smiles are,” replied Duane Wallace, a member of the district’s board of directors.

While the decision by Lewis does not guarantee the approval of the funding, Doolittle said his support is critical.

“The fact that the committee chairman said it was in the budget makes it pretty close to a done deal,” Doolittle said. “The ball is now in the court of the Senate.”

Lewis’ support comes several months after he opposed a $2.2 million grant to the South Tahoe district, saying it was an inappropriate transfer from the Environmental Protection Agency’s hazardous waste enforcement program.

At the time, Lewis stated in a letter to EPA Administrator Carol Browner that the pipeline project might be funded by state revolving funds. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., criticized the decision to drop the grant, and lobbied with Doolittle in support of the grant request that Lewis now supports.

On Thursday, Boxer said she will now turn her attention to the Senate appropriations subcommittee chaired by Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., who also opposed the previous grant.

“This is good news for those of us working on this project,” Boxer said. “I look forward to working with Congressmen Lewis and Doolittle to convince Chairman Bond of the importance of this project.”

The assistance is sorely needed, district officials have said. The district is under an order to replace the 27-mile pipeline, which carries treated wastewater from the Tahoe Basin to a reservoir in Alpine County. So far, the district has paid for $10 million of the $34 million replacement project, but is seeking federal aid to help pay for the rest.

Two years ago, the district approved five years of rate increases to pay for the project. The board waived the first year of sewer rate increases this year, citing South Lake Tahoe’s flood-damaged economy, and cut the water rate increase nearly in half.

District officials have said they may rescind the rate increases altogether if they are successful in obtaining additional funding from the federal government.

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