Tahoe utility to challenge Lahontan fines | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe utility to challenge Lahontan fines

Patrick McCartney

The South Tahoe Public Utility District will fight the decision by a regional water-quality board earlier this month to fine the district $50,000 for two spills last fall during tests of a new wastewater export line.

That was the decision reached by the district’s board of directors Thursday during a closed-door meeting in South Lake Tahoe.

In announcing the decision to appeal the civil penalties, the president of the district’s board of directors called the decision by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board unjustified.

“The actions by the Lahontan Regional Board, in light of the law and the evidence presented to it, was unjust, unfair and wholly inappropriate,” said Chris Strohm.

Strohm said the district’s counsel will prepare a petition to submit to the State Water Resources Control Board, Lahontan’s parent agency.

The decision to appeal was nearly a foregone conclusion, considering the stout opposition to the proposed fines the district had marshaled before the June 6 hearing. In protesting the disciplinary action, the district had accused the regional water board of singling out the district for punishment while dragging its heels on enforcement action against other polluters.

In its presentation to the Lahontan board, the district argued that the environmental harm from the two spills was minimal, and that the district’s record of spills was far better than alleged by Lahontan’s board chairman. While saying the spills were regrettable, the district maintained that they had exercised responsible oversight and that the spills were the result of unavoidable accidents.

But in approving the $50,000 penalties, the Lahontan board said state law prevented it from overlooking the discharge of treated wastewater into the Upper Truckee River. The regional board received the support of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the League to Save Lake Tahoe in taking action over the spills.

But the utility district gained widespread community support for its position, with state Sen. Tim Leslie and Assemblyman Thomas “Rico” Oller both supporting the district at the hearing and asking for mediation over punishment.

On Friday, Strohm said the board still believes it was right in opposing the fines.

“The district will appeal this decision … because our cause is right, is just and in the best interests of our community and the environment,” Strohm said.

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