unedited Tahoe Mt. News Sept. story
By Kathryn Reed
A tentative agreement has been reached with many of the third parties mired in the 16-year-old Meyers Landfill lawsuit.
Details will not be available until papers are signed.
The 26-acre site off Pioneer Trail was a dump until the early 1970s through a special use permit the Forest Service issued to El Dorado County. The feds sued when vinyl chloride was found seeping into the groundwater.
Other defendants are South Lake Tahoe, Douglas County, South Tahoe Public Utility District, Lake Tahoe Unified School District, Raley’s, South Tahoe Refuse, Harrah’s, Harveys, Heavenly, Safeway, Hertz, Barton Healthcare and Sierra Pacific Power Co.
“As I explained, at this point in time we are not in a position to reveal the identities of any parties with whom a tentative settlement has been reached as this matter remains pending litigation,” said Mike Ciccozzi, El Dorado County deputy counsel.
Throughout the process, Douglas County and the city have also been at the forefront of the lawsuit and part of the erratic mediation process that got nowhere this month. The parties are scheduled to meet again next month.
Barton and STPUD say they are not part of the tentative agreement.
“We feel we are such a small player and have no liability that we chose not to take part in mediation,” said Kathryn Biasotti, director of quality and risk management for Barton.
The hospital had asked the judge for a summary judgment, but was denied. One argument the hospital has used is that it burned all of its waste so no contaminants from the facility polluted the dump. Biasotti said she remembers in 1988 when she started at Barton an incinerator was still being used.
South Tahoe PUD was first involved in the lawsuit because one of its lines goes under the dump. It has been determined that garbage was strewn over it and that the line is correctly placed.
“The preferred alternative of the Forest Service (for remediation) does not involve us moving that line. It involves moving the garbage put over the line and consolidating and making the cap smaller,” explained Dennis Cocking, spokesman for the district. “Once we determined that, we decided our liability was zero.”
Nonetheless, both entities are still party to the lawsuit.
A series of meeting was hosted by the Forest Service earlier this year about what type of cap should be put on the dump.
This month the agency expects to have responses to the 41 comments it received.
The decision about which cap will be used should be revealed in December, according to spokeswoman Cheva Heck.
But much disagreement still exists as to the legal requirements. Some say the law mandates the cap and reuse must be done at the same, whereas others say they are separate processes.
One reason people want the process to run concurrently is that the type of cap can restrict the subsequent use. Without knowing the type or level of use the land will endure, it is hard to determine the grade of cap that should be installed.
It has been documented that the county would like ownership of the land transferred to it so first the cleanup could be done under their purview and then the proposed use could go through the necessary steps. An idea often bandied about is moving Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care to the old dump and expanding it to be a wildlife park and rehabilitation center.
The Forest Service has contradicted itself through the years about how the whole process works as evidenced by correspondence obtained by the Tahoe Mountain News.
A letter dated Aug. 31, 2004, from former Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson to then South Lake Tahoe Mayor Tom Davis says, “Current and proposed activities associated with the [wildlife] Center would not contribute to Forest Service wildlife management, interpretive services, or other objectives.”
A letter dated May 3, 2006, from Deputy Forest Supervisor Tyrone Kelley to El Dorado County Supervisor Norma Santiago says, “We are requesting your formal proposal for the wildlife care center reuse of the Meyers Landfill site. … The Forest Service is willing to consider transfer of title of the site after clean up to the City of South Lake Tahoe or El Dorado County along with the operation and maintenance of the CERCLA clean up site. It is timely to formalize the proposal for the wildlife care center since we are in the RI/FS phase, which includes post closure use considerations in developing the remedy.”
A letter dated Oct. 16, 2006, from Forest Supervisor Terri Marceron to Interested Parties says, “The decision about the type of cover selected will allow for a range of uses (in terms of impacts) allowable for the cap to be effective, but not what those uses might be. … When the site remedies are in place and determined effective, a seperate (cq) process will be opened widely to the public for comment, ideas, input and suggestions.”
Even this year the Forest Service has contradicted itself to the point that local officials are scurrying to shore-up support outside the basin.
Brad Shipley is the Forest Service’s remedial project manager for the landfill. He believes CERCLA – Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act – should be followed. This means combining reuse with cleanup.
However, in a lengthy email to the Mountain News dated June 12, 2007, Forest Service spokesman Rex Norman wrote that it’s the National Environmental Policy Act his agency must follow.
That, though, contradicts information on the EPA’s website about Superfund sites, which the Meyers Landfill was designated as. It says CERLA is the law.
Mediation may solve the controversy and the following questions: Who will own the land when all is said and done? Who will pay to cleanup the site? How much will it cost? What is the timeline? What are the possible uses when it is cleaned up?
Mayor Kathay Lovell as chair of the South Lake Tahoe Basin Waste Management Authority sent letters to California and Nevada, and federal politicians who govern the area to enlist their help with resolving the matter.
The waste authority was created in 1994 by the city and two counties – the three primary defendants in the lawsuit.
The July 24 letter in part says, “As part of a mediated settlement, it has been proposed that a parcel of land including the former landfill property be transferred from Forest Service ownership to El Dorado County, with the County being entrusted with administration of the settlement proceeds and responsible for the closure and post-closure of the landfill. … We believe El Dorado County can close the landfill more economically than the Forest Service.”
The elected officials also received an executive summary of the landfill that outlines how the wildlife center would be incorporated into the reuse. Many of these same people had previously received the more thorough feasibility study of the wildlife park that the Forest Service had originally requested but has since said is pointless because the cap comes before the reuse.
The Forest Service, along with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and Lahontan Water Quality Control Board, was in on the meetings that led to the feasibility study.