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The deliverables: Pipeline of pipe dream?

Andy Bourelle

MTBE isn’t the only big problem facing South Tahoe Public Utility District.

The other major problem STPUD seems to be having is getting the presidential deliverables delivered.

“It bodes very poorly for any trust this community can put into the federal government,” said Duane Wallace, STPUD board member and executive director of the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce.

STPUD has spent the past few years working to replace its wastewater export pipeline, which carries 1.7 billion gallons of recycled water 26 miles to Alpine County.

In 1996, the total cost of the project is estimated at $37.1 million, to be completed in phases. STPUD is completing Phase 2 now and so far has spent $21 million.

According to STPUD, the district went forward with Phase 2, expecting to receive $7.1 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

That’s what the president promised anyway.

“When the president came out to the summit, the very first thing he said was, ‘I want this pipeline; I am committed to this pipeline,” Wallace said.

Because of that, Wallace said, STPUD borrowed $5 million to go ahead with Phase 2. The money STPUD has already spent, Wallace said, was to be counted as discretionary funds and used for STPUD’s financial match to the $7.1 million grant.

Now, the EPA is not honoring that promise, according to STPUD.

“They only want to go back to Oct. 1, 1997,” Wallace said. “We, in good faith, had already spent a great deal of money before that.”

Although President Clinton, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein and California Congressman John Doolittle want the money to go to STPUD, Wallace said, the bureaucratic process at the EPA has stopped the money.

“For the (Environmental Improvement Program), it bodes very poorly for Tahoe to even receive federal money,” he said. “If we can have this kind of horsepower behind the $7 million and have this small-time, never-been-to-Tahoe bureaucrat hold it up, it doesn’t look good for the rest of the money.”

The original pipeline was installed in the 1960s, under state mandate to pump wastewater out of the basin. The pipeline travels 26 miles to the Harvey Place Reservoir in Alpine County, where the recycled water irrigates 2,000 acres of STPUD land and 2,600 acres of ranch land.

Traveling underground, the pipe carries 4-1/2 million gallons of recycled water a day along Highways 50 and 89, going over Luther Pass. The parts of the pipeline most in need of work were replaced in the first two phases.

However, because of STPUD’s inability to get the money, the 1999 phase may have to be canceled.

“We need to know by Nov. 1 if that money is coming so we can do engineering and planning for the next phase,” Wallace said. “That is the drop-dead date.”

Congress has appropriated another $2.5 million for the 1999 phase. However, STPUD Information Officer Dawn Forsythe said that money will be lost if STPUD doesn’t receive the original $7.1 million and is forced to cancel work.

Legislators supporting the money are helping STPUD fight for the $7.1 million and South Lake Tahoe’s fight for the rest of the federal $50 million Clinton promised.

“We applauded the president as he announced an ambitious Tahoe initiative that included $50 million over two years for land acquisition, prescribed burning, watershed restoration, public transportation, upgrades to the wastewater pipelines, erosion control and scientific research at the lake,” Feinstein said on the Senate floor in September. “Unfortunately, since then, Lake Tahoe seems to have dropped off the administration’s radar screen. The administration never even fulfilled the $50 million in commitments the president made at Tahoe, let alone extend those commitments to fiscal year 1999.”

Boxer sent a letter to EPA dated Aug. 28 saying, “As you know, the Presidential Summit at Lake Tahoe on July 26, 1997, President Clinton pledged to commit $50 million in federal funding to help protect the lake. A centerpiece of that administration funding commitment is the export pipeline replacement project.”

Wallace said STPUD staff and board members are furious.

“I am not going to put the rate-payers in jeopardy. I am not going to let the government trick us into spending money and then re-spending money,” he said. “They need to step up to the plate and deliver what they promised. We have enough problems fighting MTBE.”

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

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