STPUD pipeline doesn’t get EPA match
The deadline is past.
If the South Tahoe Public Utility District Board of Directors does not hear what it wants to hear from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by Thursday afternoon, Phase 3 construction of the district’s recycled water export pipeline will be canceled.
“We’re not holding our breath,” said Duane Wallace, STPUD board member. “This isn’t a game of chicken. It’s over.”
STPUD had set Nov. 1 as its deadline for receiving a promise of $7.15 million from the EPA for its recycled water export pipeline project. Without a guarantee of the money, STPUD said it would be forced to stop construction.
Board members will vote Thursday whether to cancel Phase 3.
“It takes a huge amount of staging time for a project of this size,” Wallace said. “We’ve said all along Nov. 1 was our deadline. Nov. 1 has come and gone. Now, it’s just a matter of our board stopping construction.”
STPUD has spent the past few years working to replace its recycled water export pipeline, which carries 1.7 billion gallons of recycled water 26 miles to Alpine County each year, where it irrigates more than 2,000 acres of ranch land. Originally built in the 1960s, under mandate to pump wastewater out of the basin, the pipeline had experienced breaks and spills.
Stemming from the 1997 Presidential Summit at Lake Tahoe, $7.15 million was appropriated by Congress in October 1997 to go to STPUD to help for the construction of the new pipeline the district had already spent millions of dollars on.
Because of that, STPUD borrowed $5 million to go ahead with Phase 2.
According to the district, the money STPUD has already spent – more than $20 million – was to be used for STPUD’s 45-percent financial match to the $7.15 million grant.
However, the EPA has maintained that it is a significant deviation from its normal procedure.
STPUD doesn’t quite see it that way.
“The president is telling them and Congress is telling them, ‘We are committed to this pipeline; we want the money spent to be as a match,'” Wallace said. “We think $22 million is a fair match to $7 million. We don’t understand how this bureaucracy can be so inefficient. The administration simply has not lived up to its promise.”
Negotiations with the EPA have taken place for weeks. However, Wallace said the EPA has made “multiple, confusing, contradictory offers” that are not acceptable to the district.
“All the offers require us to do more borrowing to match funds we already matched,” he said.
Ken Greenberg, a member of EPA’s Lake Tahoe project team, said although negotiations are continuing with STPUD, the agencies have not yet reached an agreement.
Phase 1 was completed in 1996, Phase 2 was completed this year, Phase 3 was to be completed next summer and the final phase was to be completed in 2000. If the board of directors stops the project Thursday, the schedule will change.
“We’ll be building the pipeline in a time line our ratepayers can afford,” Wallace said. “We have no choice but to protect our ratepayers’ pocketbooks.”
The sections in most need of repair already have been replaced. However, Wallace said there still is a need to complete the work as soon as possible.
“There are some pretty important sections of the pipeline we were going to replace,” he said. “If there is a leak, it will be on their heads.”
The larger ramifications of the issue, according to STPUD, will be for the $900 million Environmental Improvement Program, which the costs for were to be divided up between local, state and federal partners.
“EPA’s failure to live up to its commitment to us and to the people of Lake Tahoe sends a strong message about all the other projects committed to by EPA and other agencies, costing hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Bob Baer, STPUD general manager. “It’s not a good message.”
STPUD board members and staff are disappointed.
“It went from a pipeline to a pipe dream to a nightmare,” Wallace said.
What: Regular meeting of the South Tahoe Public Utility District Board of Directors
Where: City Council Chambers, 1900 Lake Tahoe Blvd.
When: Thursday at 2 p.m.
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