Forest Service arrogance costing pretty penny
No matter which way the spin doctors cast this one, the bottom line is the U.S. Forest Service is welshing on a deal – a move that could have serious repercussions for local businesses that operate on Forest Service land.
The issue is water, or lack thereof. Last year, the Forest Service got itself in a serious predicament when it refused to pay Ludkins Brothers Water Company’s rate hike, despite the fact it had been approved by the California Public Utilities Commission.
For those who operate Camp Richardson and the Tallac site, the very real possibility of not having water for guests over the July Fourth weekend was a nightmare. At the last minute, South Tahoe Public Utility District and Ludkins bailed out those critical tourist facilities, with Ludkins providing water through the summer and STPUD providing water from September through May.
But the nightmare is back.
After months of negotiations, the Forest Service has yet to work out an agreement with STPUD, and the district adamantly refuses to provide water to the Camp Richardson without it. Worse, the Forest Service is now considering getting into the water business for itself.
At issue is who owns the water underneath Forest Service land.
For almost five years, STPUD has been working with the Forest Service to build a well on Forest Service land. The district agreed to pay routine fees – fees based on land use, not water use.
Under California law, STPUD owns all the water in the Lake Tahoe aquifer. But the Forest Service apparently wants a piece of the pie. Even though STPUD owns the water, the Forest Service wants to charge a fee for the water pumped from the district’s well on its land.
For consumers, that would mean paying for water twice.
When the Forest Service first brought up the water-fee issue in the fall, the district refused to pay. The Forest Service apparently dropped the issue, drafting a letter of intent with the district to build the well.
With that agreement in hand, the district started drilling.
Almost a million dollars later and more than half way through the project, the Forest Service pulled a fast one. The Forest Service’s draft of a special use permit with STPUD reflected the water-usage fee – cleverly disguised as something else but a water usage fee nonetheless.
Now the deal is off. STPUD and its customers are stuck with a $800,000 hole in the earth and little to show for it. The Forest Service, on the other hand, is now considering drilling its own well.
The total waste of money is infuriating, but not nearly as infuriating as trying to work with the Forest Service and its frightfully arrogant bureaucracy.
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The snow and colder weather setting in across the Tahoe Basin is a welcome gift for those actively managing the stubborn, two-month-old Caldor Fire.