Assembly panel hears Tahoe sewer district bill |

Assembly panel hears Tahoe sewer district bill

A bill that converts what has become a controversial district that processes all the sewage at Lake Tahoe into something new arrived in the Nevada Assembly last week.

Most of the testimony before the Assembly Government Affairs Committee on Monday supported a bill to convert Douglas County Sewer District No. 1 into an authority governed by representatives of three Tahoe districts, a business representative and someone representing the Douglas County commission.

The sewer district was founded in 1953 under a law that allowed it to be governed by heads of the Stateline casinos.

The district’s board was the topic of a presentation by District Attorney Mark Jackson, who said it had been operating in violation of both open meeting and election law.

Jackson’s broadside came after the board arranged to have an ethics complaint filed against the county planner in charge of reviewing a gravel mining operation proposed to help the district defray the costs of building a new sewer pond in the East Valley. The ethics complaint was found to be without merit, and the sewer district board was accused of several open meeting law violations by the Nevada Attorney General’s Office.

Sewer district president Mike Bradford admitted that times had changed since the district was formed.

“Lake Tahoe was a much smaller place than it is today,” Bradford said. “The lake has grown dramatically and the population there has spread over a larger geographic area.”

But he defended the district, saying it had lower rates than any other sewer treatment plant in Douglas County.

“We’re trying to make it better,” he said. “Bringing more people into the governance to keep it improving over the next 60 years.”

Tahoe-Douglas District Manager Janet Murphy said she was testifying as a resident and a taxpayer and not on behalf of her district.

Because the new authority’s boundaries would expand to cover all of Lake Tahoe in Douglas County, she sought an amendment that would clarify that didn’t mean the authority would have the power to override the other districts.

She pointed out there were 800 people living in the current district boundaries and that they were able to hold office and vote in any election.

Zephyr Cover General Improvement District Chairman Gary Richards said some of the bill language seemed open ended and confusing to him.

“This is just creating another level of government,” he said. “It seems to me a bit overreaching in its powers and authorities. The difference is that a 318 district is filled by election first and then appointment as necessary. It gives the residents a voice and a vote in their board.”

Sen. James Settelmeyer pointed out that three of the districts who are customers would be represented on the board, including Tahoe Douglas, Roundhill and Kingsbury.

In answer to legislators’ questions about the district’s debts, attorney Jim Cavilla said the district has $10 million in reserves. Its obligations are about $100,000 a year. Supporters reassured lawmakers all rights and obligations of the district would be transferred to the authority.

“This is simply a change in the governance of this entity,” Settelmeyer said.

He told the assembly committee that altering the district required a change to the TRPA compact. He said the board’s structure was designed to improve transparency. The bill would repeal the law under which the district was formed.

The committee took no action.