Tahoe Paradise residents plan suit
Some Tahoe Paradise residents are planning to file a lawsuit against El Dorado County on the grounds that the county took away the owners’ ability to use their homes.
Diane O’Connor, Rob Benton, George and Sue Pietrowski and Bill and Carol McIntosh claim that the county has diverted water from an erosion control project on U.S. Highway 50 and Pioneer Trail into a series of clogged drainage ditches behind their Arapahoe Street homes.
After claims filed in December were rejected by the county, the residents are embracing their right to sue as a final effort to regain what they said they have lost.
Sue Pietrowski, who has owned her home on Arapahoe for eight years, said she wants to see the county finally solve the problem that has plagued the neighborhood for the past four years.
“I can never sell my house, I cannot put up a fence, I cannot pave my driveway or do any type of landscaping – anything I do to my yard will be washed away into Lake Tahoe,” she said. “I am just so tired of this.”
O’Connor also wants to be bought out and paid for damages so she can move out of the home that she says has caused her nothing but grief.
“I’ve put at least $10,000 a year into that house just to keep on top of this,” O’Connor said. “I shouldn’t have to live like that, and I want to be paid for my time and trouble.”
Ray Nutting, El Dorado County Supervisor for the district, said suing the county is certainly the residents’ right, but said the real victims will be the citizens.
“If the taxpayers are asked to solve every community’s problems, I don’t think there is enough money to pay that bill,” he said.
O’Connor said she does not yet know how much money she or any of the others will seek in the lawsuit.
Dale L. Sare, the attorney who is expected to be retained for the suit, said the case will likely be based on inverse condemnation -when a government action impairs the value of a property or severely restricts its use.
“The basic theory of the lawsuit as I see it is that certain erosion control projects changed the natural flow of the water,” Sare said. “There were problems before, but major problems only occurred after the erosion control project.”
Residents say the problem of excess water and sediment flowing onto their property is compounded when it is backed up by the clogged drainage ditches, which neither the county nor the residents say they can clean.
“The drainage goes under Highway 50 down to Arapahoe and then it has nowhere to go,” McIntosh said. “It’s flushing debris, mud and rocks right onto my property up to the second step to my house … and floods the garage which gets flooded yearly.”
Pietrowski noted that residents, even if they wanted to, could not possibly alleviate the situation on their own.
“It’s a chronic problem and I don’t have 3.5 million to fix it,” she said. “Even if I did fix it so it wouldn’t damage my house, it would just screw up everyone else and they would sue me.”
But El Dorado County Department of Transportation officials deny that the county is responsible for either alleged problem.
Bruce Lee, supervising civil engineer, said while he was not personally involved in the Pioneer project, he does not believe it made the drainage situation worse.
“The project on Pioneer would have reduced, not increased the amount of water as it went through the meadow,” he said. “That would indicate that there’s less water leaving that meadow after the project than there was before the work was done.”
Tom Halvorson, highway supervisor, said there is simply no money for the county to maintain the ditches because they are not adjacent to the roadway.
Although the ditches are on drainage easements, Halvorson said they are still private property and therefore the responsibility of the homeowners.
O’Connor said she is in the process of setting up a meeting for the end of this month with all affected residents and Sare to discuss their course of action.
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