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MTBE ban could be reality at Tahoe

The ordinance probably couldn’t say it more bluntly.

“Fuel containing MTBE, methyl tertiary butyl ether, is hereby banned from sale in the Lake Tahoe Basin of El Dorado County,” states the draft of a new underground storage tank ordinance.

And the draft says a violation of that or any rule in the ordinance could result in fines or jail time, and it could mean immediate closure of a gasoline service station.



This week Tahoe officials likely will take the first step in turning that ordinance into a reality on South Shore, an area where the controversial fuel additive MTBE has polluted many drinking water supplies. While Tahoe is one of the few places in California getting mostly MTBE-free gas, at least four South Shore stations still are serving MTBE-laden fuel.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Dennis Cocking, spokesman for the South Tahoe Public Utility District, which has closed more than a third of its wells because of MTBE contamination. “If the county can find a way to do it, that would get MTBE out of here. As long as there is MTBE in the basin, wells are still potentially at risk.”




Last year the county and the city of South Lake Tahoe joined into a cooperative agreement with STPUD, the area’s primary water supplier. The purpose of the new group, the Lake Tahoe Region Water Preservation Authority, was to find a way to get MTBE-laden gasoline out of the California portion of South Shore.

After the group’s inception, however, California Gov. Gray Davis took statewide action regarding MTBE, and many local service stations voluntarily started serving MTBE-free fuel. The group last summer decided to take a wait-and-see approach, giving suppliers time to voluntarily serve MTBE-free gas.

Indicating the stations have had enough time, El Dorado Supervisor Dave Solaro last month worked with county staffers to develop a new underground storage tank ordinance.

The Lake Tahoe Region Water Preservation Authority – whose board consists of Solaro and a member each from the City Council and STPUD Board of Directors – is going to talk about the proposed ordinance at a meeting March 8.

If that group endorses the plan, Solaro will take it before the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors, which could happen by late March at the earliest.

“If Dave thinks it will be in the scope of their authority to outlaw it, we’re all for it,” Cocking said. “I think everyone in the basin would breathe a sigh of relief if they knew MTBE was not being sold in the basin.”

Judy Brown, the City Council’s member on the water authority, agrees.

“I think we’ve been very patient, and it’s about time we take this action,” she said.

South Shore stations the state of California considers to still be serving MTBE include the Roadrunner in Meyers, Stop N’ Save and Tahoe Tom’s in South Lake Tahoe, and the Swiss Mart on Emerald Bay Road.

Sam Kang, manager of the Swiss Mart, said he had no problem with the proposal.

“If they order us to take MTBE out, we’re going to order MTBE-free,” he said.

breakout

What: Lake Tahoe Region Water Preservation Authority meeting

When: March 8, 3 p.m.

Where: City Council Chambers, 1900 Lake Tahoe Blvd.


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