Sewage settlement delayed |

Sewage settlement delayed

David Bunker
Keith Sheffield / Tahoe World / North Tahoe Public Utility District crews work to contain a sewage spill at Kings Beach last summer.

KINGS BEACH – A settlement hearing between state officials and defendants in the Kings Beach sewage spill will be continued to October after discussions broke down Wednesday.

Lawyers for two lakeside property owners, marine contractor Pacific Built Inc., the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board and the North Tahoe Public Utility District initially requested that the board meeting be delayed to conduct two backroom negotiations Wednesday.

A proposed settlement, however, failed in closed-door discussions and the lawyers for the defendants asked that the meeting be continued to October. The settlement would have scuttled proposed fines from the state water board and the lawsuit filed by the North Tahoe Public Utility District, according to the parties.

The contractor and two lakefront property owners face a $325,000 fine in the July 2005 spill that dumped an estimated 56,000 gallons of raw sewage into Lake Tahoe.

The contractor was building a pier along the shared property line of the homes when the sewer line was punctured.

The settlement involved a piece of equipment that was to be purchased by the defendants and used by the North Tahoe Public Utility District and be available to all the other public utility districts in the area, said Bruce Shaffer, attorney for marine contractor Pacific Built Inc. Specifics were not released because of confidentiality agreements between the parties.

But Lahontan officials were hopeful that a settlement could still be reached.

“We believe there is a real possibility that we can come up with a project that can benefit Lake Tahoe,” said Steven Blum, state water board senior counsel.

Why the settlement failed before reaching the board was unclear, although Neil Eskind, attorney for the North Tahoe Public Utility District, said the agency was seeking an agreement that would address the estimated $248,000 the district spent in cleaning up the spill.

Although the board agreed to continue the hearing, with board member John Brissenden voting against the motion, the members were worried that lawyers would negotiate a settlement that would not meet with approval from the board.

“To the dischargers and the prosecution team – you don’t know what target you are shooting at,” said Amy Horne, the chairwoman of the board.

Board member Jim Chapman was also worried about the continued, covert negotiations on a settlement without the public being able to comment on the progress of the case.

The hearing will be at the October meeting of the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board. No new evidence can be submitted in the case between now and the hearing, according to the counsel for the water board.

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