Jury: Land wanted by sewer district worth $12 million; Alpine County property needed to dispose of wastewater
South Shore’s sewer district may end up paying $12 million for a 1,400-acre property in Alpine County after a Sacramento jury decided the district’s appraised value in an eminent domain transaction was not enough.
The owners of the Diamond Valley Ranch insisted the property be bought through eminent domain when South Tahoe Public Utility District expressed interest in purchasing it in 2003, according to district spokesman Dennis Cocking.
The utility plans to use the land to dispose of its treated wastewater, which it must export out of the Tahoe Basin in order to comply with strict environmental laws.
The utility took possession of the land in 2003 and paid an appraised value of $5.2 million, but the owner’s appraisal came in at $19 million. The large discrepancy led the parties to court.
The jury apparently did not arrive at a final verdict, so details are still unclear as to its implications.
“At this point it’s too early to forecast long-term consequences of the decision (as it pertains to rate increases, forgoing capital projects, additional borrowing, etc.) although all options will be explored,” said Cocking in a statement.
While the jury’s move last week to set a market value of $12.6 million means the district may have to pay more for the ranch, it may make it possible for the district to acquire the land legally, as public agencies are not allowed to pay more than fair market value for acquisitions.
For a long time, the treated waste water has been used to irrigate ranchland in the Carson Valley. The water has trace amounts of phosphorous, ammonia and nitrogen and cannot be used for watering crops for human consumption.
The district estimated the land size required to apply 100 percent of its wastewater would be around 1,500 acres, although it was unlikely they would ever need to apply all of it to that one plot. They cannot apply wastewaster on plots less than 100 acres, Cocking said.
Recent large-scale development in the Carson Valley made it clear their options there may not be available for the indefinite future, Cocking said.
So the utility started looking for a large plot of land it could own to dispose of the wastewater.
The land is directly adjacent to their existing facilities in Alpine County.
“It was absolutely critical for the district to ac quire this large tract of undeveloped land to operate our reuse facilities in Alpine County long into the future,” said district board member and engineer Jim Jones.
The former owners of the land are Integrated Water Resources, a Southern California company specializing in groundwater exploration and the acquisition and marketing of water resources, according to its Web site. They could not be reached for comment by press time.
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