Utility district to talk before suing | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Utility district to talk before suing

Patrick McCartney

Directors of the South Tahoe Public Utility District say they will try to resolve their differences with the local water-quality regulator rather than go to court to challenge fines.

On Wednesday the district’s directors met for nearly three hours behind closed doors to consider a legal challenge of $50,000 in civil penalties leveled by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.

While the directors agreed not to go to court immediately, the board voted to ask Lahontan to extend the statute of limitations for a possible lawsuit in the event negotiations are unsuccessful.

Lahontan fined the district last year for two 1996 spills of treated wastewater during construction of a new export line that carries wastewater out of the Tahoe Basin. Earlier this month, the State Water Resources Control Board rejected the district’s appeal of the civil fines, saying Lahontan had not exceeded its authority when it imposed the penalties. The district has until May 9 to file a court challenge of the state board’s decision.

Jim Jones, the district board president, said the district hopes to negotiate with the Lahontan staff to achieve a better working relationship.

“Let’s just get along,” Jones said. “At this point, we just want to talk to them and see if there are areas where we may be able to work things out.”

District officials objected to the fines last year, saying Lahontan unfairly singled out the public utility while letting private companies off the hook in long-standing pollution cases. The district lobbied Lahontan to take tougher action in underground fuel tank leaks that forced the closure of seven district wells.

“From the beginning, we felt we weren’t treated fairly, and want to improve our relationship,” Jones said. “After all, we’re both working for the same goals.”

Lahontan officials were not available for comment Thursday.

Mary Lou Mosbacher, the district director who suggested trying negotiations first, said she would like Lahontan to allow the district to apply the $50,000 in civil fines toward a water-quality project.

“I hope we can agree on some kind of project that helps our district and helps achieve what (Lahontan) wants to do,” Mosbacher said. “Our district has always wanted to cooperate.”

The district has not yet paid Lahontan the $50,000 fine, but district officials say the contractor in charge of the export line project is liable for the penalty. The district spent more than that amount opposing the disciplinary action.

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

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