STPUD to take legal action
Do to the apparent inaction by several gas station owners to clean up and stop leaking underground storage fuel tanks, the local district is preparing to take legal action.
In a closed session held Thursday night, South Tahoe Public Utility District lawyer Kevin Neese and several employees briefed the board members on the possibility of filing a lawsuit against parties responsible for methyl tertiary butyl ether leaking into underground drinking water wells. After hearing the news, the board directed the staff to put the legal wheels into motion.
“The board has decided to take legal action, but it was a closed executive session, so I can’t say any more than that” said Dawn Forsythe, public information officer with STPUD.
In a public session held earlier in the evening, staff members identified nine underground drinking wells that are threatened by MTBE – a gasoline additive that has been linked to potential health risks such as respiratory ailments. Five of those wells have been closed and will not be used until more studies are conducted and the MTBE is removed.
The two Helen wells, which contained MTBE levels as high as 1,000 parts per billion (the current allowed level of MTBE in the state of California is 35 parts per billion), are two of the wells that have been closed. They are located next to the South Lake Tahoe Beacon gas station and Ed’s Auto Body and Repair on U.S. Highway 50. Because of MTBE contaminants that have been detected in two wells in the Meyers area – Arrowhead No. 1 and 2 – staff also recommended immediate legal action be taken against responsible parties. Located adjacent to the Arrowhead wells is another Beacon station.
“The new tank (at the Beacon station) continues to leak,” said Ivo Bergsohn, district hydrogeologist to the board. “The owner was to notify the board by June 11 as to what action was taken to stop the leak. As of today (Thursday), no notification has been given, so we can only assume the tank continues to leak.”
One of the two Arrowhead wells has been closed, and the other will be used only to meet high summer demand. The final staff recommendation to take some sort of legal action was given in the case of the Tata Lane No. 4 well. The well, which is located approximately 1,500 feet away from the Highway 50 USA gas station, has also detected trace amounts of MTBE, and Bergsohn said he expects the bulk of gasoline to be just above the well water and percolating slowly downward.
Four other wells are listed as “threatened” by MTBE, but staff declined to recommend legal action be taken as a way to jump start gas station owners into assuring their tanks are leak free. Whether or not the board followed the staff recommendations in all or just a few matters is unknown. The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board also could take legal action, and has the authority to fine polluters, while El Dorado County has the authority to close any businesses that discharge pollutants, Bob Baer, STPUD general manager said.
“The district has no enforcement ability against MTBE contamination but like any harmed party, we have the right to go to court,” said Baer to the board. “Tahoe’s aquifers are being harmed, and this board has an obligation to consider legal options to protect the public’s drinking water supply.”
Studies involving the controversial additive MTBE continue throughout the nation. While it has been proven to help air quality, its presence in drinking water and the ramifications on human health are a major concern.
Board members and STPUD legal counsel again will meet next week to further discuss the matter.
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