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Tahoe district may challenge fines

Patrick McCartney

South Tahoe Public Utility District directors Thursday took the first step in a possible legal challenge of fines levied by a regional water-quality regulator. The fines were upheld last week.

In a closed session, directors ordered the district’s counsel to research a challenge to the decision last week by the State Water Resources Board. The state board denied the district’s appeal of $50,000 in civil penalties imposed by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board in June after two spills of treated wastewater occurred during tests of a new export pipeline.

The state board ruled that Lahontan had not abused its discretionary authority in penalizing the district, which sent more than 20,000 gallons of treated wastewater into the Upper Truckee River. District officials insisted the spills were unavoidable accidents associated with the replacement of six miles of aging pipeline, which exports sewage out of the basin to an Alpine County reservoir.

Jim Jones, president of the district’s board, said the suit would have to be filed by May 9. The board will meet in special session April 29 to make its decision.

“We are proceeding,” Jones said. “We are keeping our options open.”

The counsel must evaluate, among other considerations, whether the district can show damages, since in the end, a contractor was held liable.

The district already has spent more than $50,000, initially to oppose the fines and then to appeal the penalties to Lahontan’s parent agency. Now, district directors will decide whether to spend even more money on what they say has become a matter of principle.

“Our board feels the state board did not consider all the pertinent facts. We feel they failed to live up to the law,” Jones said. “The consistency (of Lahontan’s enforcement) is important. Not only aren’t they consistent within the region, but they are not consistent within the state.”

The state board ruled that the regional board did not violate its rules by discussing the proposed penalties the day before the hearing, and that it had relied on state laws that prohibit the discharge of any treated sewage into surface waters.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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