Environmentalists take legal action to remove abandoned toxic cables from Lake Tahoe – Good Day Sacramento
RENO (AP) – AT & T’s subsidiary Pac Bell has settled a lawsuit brought by environmentalists under a US law more commonly cited in the Superfund cases, agreeing to spend up to $ 1.5 million to remove 8 miles of toxic telephone cables that were dumped at the bottom of Lake Tahoe. decades ago.
A U.S. judge in Sacramento recently signed the consent decree in the lawsuit that the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance filed in January.
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The abandoned cables – replaced by fiber optic cables in the 1980s – contain more than 65 tons (59 metric tons) of toxic lead that pollutes the Alpine Lake on the California-Nevada line, according to the lawsuit.
In addition to violating state protections on water quality, the lawsuit said more than 3 pounds of lead per foot (30 centimeters) of cable constitutes solid waste regulated under the U.S. Water Quality Act. conservation and recovery of resources.
Pac Bell knew that the cables they owned and operated contained lead that would eventually leak into the 1,644-foot (501-meter) deep lake, according to the lawsuit. Lead in solid and dissolved form is listed as being known to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity, he said.
“All of the cables are damaged and are discharging lead into Lake Tahoe,” the lawsuit said.
AT&T said it hired a company to collect water samples both near the cables and away from them, and said the samples did not detect any release of lead in Lake Tahoe.
“We are committed to preserving one of the most picturesque freshwater lakes in the Sierra Nevada. We have agreed to remove these cables as they are no longer in use, however, we dispute any notion that they were a source of pollution, ”AT&T said in a statement. “We are disappointed to see the Alliance take such a confrontational stance after agreeing to work with them to remove these cables.”
The settlement agreement with the Stockton-based Sport Fishing Alliance states that “the parties agree that the Defendant admits no liability or other question of law … whatsoever relating to the claims made by the Plaintiff.”
Initial cost estimates for removing the cables range from $ 275,000 to $ 550,000. But Pac Bell agreed to deposit $ 1.5 million in an account to guard against overruns, according to the settlement that US investigating judge Jeremy Peterson signed on November 4.
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The company needs to get all the necessary permits and if the permit requirements push the costs above $ 1.5 million, the parties will have to come together to reassess and start arguing again if they cannot come to an agreement then. did he declare.
The cables were discovered by divers for the nonprofit group Below the Blue as part of an effort to clear alien debris from the Alpine Lake which contains enough water to cover the entire state of California to more 14 inches (35 cm) deep.
“As professional divers we know all too well the volume of spill that occurs in Lake Tahoe, but even we were shocked when we stumbled upon these cables and saw their age and extent across the lake. , ”Said Monique Rydel Fortner.
One stretches from the southwest shore of Lake Baldwin Beach to the west shore of Rubicon Bay. The other passes in front of the mouth of Emerald Bay.
The lawsuit said the company was in violation of both the federal RCRA and the California Health and Safety Code, facing civil penalties of up to $ 2,500 per day until 2020 and up to $ 2,500 per day “Until Pac Bell stops releasing lead into the lake waters.” Tahoe.
The Eureka, Calif.-Based Klamath Environmental Law Center sent a notice of alleged violations in August 2020 to Pacific Bell Telephone Co., US Environmental Protection Agency, California Regulators, El County Dorado, Placer County and local utilities providing services in the area. , including Sierra Pacific Power Co./NV Energy and Liberty Utilities.
The ensuing lawsuit cited alleged violations of both the RCRA and protections established under California Voters’ Proposition 65 approved in 1986. It ordered the governor of California to establish a list of carcinogenic chemicals and others, requiring companies to provide clear warnings about the dangers of their exposure and banning their discharge into drinking water sources, including Lake Tahoe.
David Roe, a longtime Environmental Defense Fund attorney who was the lead author of Proposition 65, said the alliance’s legal team deserves credit for devising a strategy using a combination of the two laws. to protect the public.
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“Most companies think Proposition 65 only requires toxic chemical warnings, but it has extra strong teeth to protect the waters we drink,” Roe said. “Local agencies tasked with protecting these waters would do well to study this innovative legal approach.”