Winter Sports Center may face legal action |

Winter Sports Center may face legal action

Sarah Gonser

Besides environmental impacts, a diesel spill at Lake Tahoe Golf Course may have legal repercussions as well.

The leak, which originated from a 30-gallon snow groomer fuel tank, was not reported, or discovered, until nearly two months after it happened, according to Chuck Curtis, water resource control engineer for Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.

“The spill actually happened Feb. 22 and was not reported until April 19, so there’s a long period where the diesel fuel had an opportunity to run into the river,” Curtis said. “We will be evaluating further action against (snow groom machine operators) Lake Tahoe Winter Sports Center, the golf course and possibly even the state parks which own the property. At a minimum, just Lake Tahoe Winter Sports.”

But according to John Dion, manager at Lake Tahoe Winter Sports Center, the spill remained undetected because of the amount of snow covering the ground.

“When you have a drip into the snow, it bores all the way down to the pavement and until the snow melts, you would never know there was anything there,” Dion said. “On Feb. 22 we discovered damage to a fuel line on a snow cat. We inspected and repaired it that morning but had no idea there was a problem until the snow melted.”

After discovering the leak, golf course personnel, Lake Tahoe Winter Sports, El Dorado County Environmental Management, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and Lahontan began the cleanup work by building dikes, containment ponds and soaking up fuel with absorbent materials. Water sample tests taken by Lahontan revealed Friday that diesel fuel had very likely entered the Upper Truckee River.

“There was obvious, and visible, discharge into the pond that discharges into the river,” Curtis said. “But at the levels of detection that the lab used on our samples, the fuel was not detectable in the river. The fact that it’s no longer detectable doesn’t mean there wasn’t previous damage. There’s a long period there, where this diesel had the opportunity to run into the river.”

Cleanup efforts on the spill are being monitored by TRPA.

“They have in the last six days cleaned up all residue that could be picked up using sand and other absorbent material from the cart path and other affected areas,” said Mike Solt, senior environmental specialist at TRPA. “The current phase is to excavate about six inches to one foot of stained soil and haul it in a sealed bin to an appropriate landfill.”

As far as Dion is concerned, accidents happen and Lake Tahoe Winter Sports has certainly assumed its part of the cleanup responsibilities.

“It wasn’t deliberate, there just was no sign at all of there being any contamination problems,” Dion said. “It was an accident and we’ve done everything in our power to help with the cleanup. I’m not an attorney, but a deliberate spill is one thing, an unfortunate accident is another.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.