Sewage spill settlement is proposed |

Sewage spill settlement is proposed

Kara Fox

A proposed settlement was released Monday that resolves a hefty fine and pending litigation between a state water agency, a Tahoe public utility district and defendants involved in last summer’s Kings Beach sewage spill.

In July 2005, a contractor with Tahoe City-based Pacific Built Inc. punctured a sewer force main line that dumped 56,000 gallons of raw sewage into Lake Tahoe while building a private pier for two adjacent Kings Beach homeowners, Hans and Margaret Coffeng and Claude Geoffrey and Christine Davis.

The Lahontan Water Board originally estimated that 120,000 gallons of sewage went into the lake and imposed a $700,000 fine. However, a May Lahontan hearing on the sewage spill revealed the agency miscalculated the amount and reduced the fine as a result.

The North Tahoe Public Utility District filed a lawsuit against the contractor and homeowners in May for $248,000, to recover the costs the district incurred as a result of the spill.

In July, the hearing continued but the parties involved could not commit to a settlement.

On Monday, the agency released the settlement that, if accepted by the Water Board in October, would be part of a global settlement between the water agency and North Tahoe Public Utility District actions against the two property owners and their contractor.

The $325,000 settlement proposal includes a payment of $26,840 to the State Water Resources Control Board to recover staff costs and $298,160 for a Supplemental Environmental Project that will purchase emergency equipment to be housed by the North Tahoe Public Utility District.

The piece of equipment that Pacific Built and the Coffengs and Davis’ will buy, NTPUD, is an emergency bypass hose reel system that can be used during emergencies requiring a temporary bypass of sewer facilities in the Lake Tahoe Basin and Truckee areas.

A letter dated Aug. 31 from Bruce Shaffer, attorney for Pacific Built, to Lahontan’s lawyer, states that the cash payment and money for the equipment will be made no later than Nov. 12, and that the district will have to purchase the equipment by Dec. 12. The proposal also states that the NTPUD will complete training on the equipment for its employees and for employees of other districts in the basin and Truckee.

“I think it is a fair settlement,” said Robert Dodds, assistant executive officer for Lahontan. “It results in some environmental protection for Lake Tahoe.”

Dodds said the NTPUD found the equipment “to be a worthwhile piece of equipment” that can be used by all 13 districts in the basin and Truckee in emergency situations. Five of those sewage, water or sanitation districts wrote letters in August in support of the purchase of the equipment, including the Tahoe City Public Utility District, the Incline Village General Improvement District, the Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency, the Truckee Sanitary District and the South Tahoe Public Utility District.

Steve Rogers, general manager of the NTPUD, said that he could not comment on specifics of the settlement because the litigation is still pending, but said the settlement would cover the cost of the equipment rather than the initial intent of the lawsuit, which was to recover costs incurred by the district during the emergency.

“The district’s goal throughout this process is policy changes and to find a win-win situation,” Rogers said.

Julie Regan, communications director for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency said the agency’s legal committee of the board will discuss the proposal at its Sept. 26 meeting.

“Our request to the Lahontan board was to allow any funds required to go back in to the lake,” Regan said. “Our hope was that some money would be used to protect the lake and that appears that is happening.”

However, John Friedrich, program director for the League to Save Lake Tahoe, said he thought the money should go to environmental restoration of the lake.

“It doesn’t appear that the settlement would even cover the North Tahoe Public Utility District’s clean-up cost, much less the cost to Kings Beach business owners and the larger community, as well as Lake Tahoe itself,” Friedrich said.

The Water Board will vote on the settlement at its regularly scheduled meeting on Oct. 11 and 12 in Kings Beach.

The public can comment on the settlement proposal and should be submitted to the Water Board’s prosecution team by Oct. 11 to be considered by the Water Board.

Copies of the settlement proposal can be reviewed at the Water Board’s South Lake Tahoe office or by calling (530) 542-5400.

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