County drops Cascade Shores leach field proposal on slide site
After years of protests by neighbors, Nevada County will not move forward with a leach field project meant to improve the performance of the Cascade Shores wastewater treatment plant. The potential leach field had been in the works for about five years, but has been scrapped due to geotechnical findings that show potentially unstable geologic conditions that could cause shallow slope failures below the site.
The news was hailed by the Cascade Shores Alliance for Land Safety, which has long contended the entire area is prone to the kind of slides that damaged the original treatment plant in 2005 and caused the evacuation of 16 homes in February 2017. That 2017 slide is also the genesis for a civil suit filed last year in Nevada County Superior Court on behalf of a number of property owners whose homes were damaged.
“The (fact) the leach field is not going in does give us more peace of mind,” said Richard Lau — one of the plaintiffs in the suit and a member of the alliance.
“There is a real problem, (but the leach field) wasn’t the answer,” said fellow alliance member Mike Fitzwater.
County drops site as not viable
The leach field had been proposed by the county because of new state regulations that mandated the removal of copper and zinc from the discharged wastewater, said Nevada County Waste Water Operations Manager Brad Torres.
The Cascade Shores wastewater treatment plant, which was built after the 2005 landslide, is not equipped to handle those new discharge requirements, Torres said — copper was added to the permit requirements in 2008, zinc in 2015. A Time Schedule Order has been issued by the state with potential fines for non-compliance.
One problem unique to Cascade Shores, Torres said, is that because the wastewater flow is so slight, there is no dilution of contaminants in the waste stream as there would be in a larger facility.
The current plant operates at a cost of $300,000 a year, Torres said. A new leach field would have cost about $75,000 a year, a much cheaper alternative than upgrading the plant or piping the wastewater to Nevada City.
Nevada County purchased the 40-acre parcel next to the current treatment plant in 2015 at a cost of $300,000, money that came from a state grant.
According to Torres, initial perc and mantle testing of the site kept the project going until this year.
“Because of the 2017 slide, it was recommended by our geotechnical consultant to do deep boring, to ensure the global stability of parcel was able to handle the leach field,” he said.
That process entails using a drill rig with a hollow drill bit, Torres explained. As the rig drills down, soil samples are removed and tested, to get a record of the soil at every layer down to 100 feet.
“At the deeper layers there was a clay layer,” Torres said.
The water cannot seep through, so it would instead seep out of the bluff and would be distributed into the canyon below, untreated.
“We are looking at alternatives for metal removal that didn’t exist before, new emerging technology,” Torres said. “But we will have to look at upgrading the plant. There is no other available land.”
Any associated costs will be borne by the customers, he said.
LAWSUIT to continue
Homeowners affected by the landslide filed suit in March 2018, alleging the county was aware of the potential danger and exacerbated the situation.
Attorney P. Scott Browne initially filed the suit on behalf of Irene Masteller, Antonio Masteller, Stephen Halpert and Richard Lau against Nevada County and the county’s sanitation district, seeking damages because the February 2017 landslide on county-owned property spread uphill to their properties. The plaintiffs also sought a court order to force the agencies to stabilize the slopes so as to prevent further damage.
That lawsuit later was consolidated with suits filed on behalf of Candice Souza-Suarez and Robert Suarez, and G. Michael and Edna Saigh.
The Masteller residence was red-tagged and eventually sold to a rehabber, although it remains vacant. The residence owned by Lau and Halpert was yellow-tagged, and they need to pay for a geotechnical report to remove that designation. The Saighs’ home is “completely uninhabitable,” Browne said.
The Suarezes still live in their home, Browne said, adding, “They can’t afford to move out. They’re stuck with a house they can never sell. It’s an awful situation.”
According to the suit, the 2017 landslide originated on county property, but the county has not taken any responsibility and has required all affected property owners to repair the damage (none of which is covered by any insurance) and obtain expensive geotechnical reports.
According to Browne, the land purchased for the leach field project is only a few hundred yards from the site of the 2005 landslide. In his suit, he alleged Nevada County downplayed the landslide risk on this new property in order to muffle any concern that could prevent the county from getting funding from the state for the project.
Browne hailed the county’s decision to abandon the leach field project.
“It would have further aggravated an already dangerous situation,” Browne said. “One of the causes of action (in the lawsuit) was an injunction to stop that leach field. Now that won’t be necessary.”
Browne said that as recently as August, Nevada County filed an application with the state, moving forward for a permit for the leach field.
“The borings confirmed what they already knew,” he said. “From the point of view of my clients, they had all the information necessary to know this was an unsuitable site. Their own report said this entire area was unstable.”
Browne said he will continue to press forward with the lawsuit against the county. A recent mediation hearing was unsuccessful and the parties will return to Nevada County Superior Court on Jan. 10.
“Of course we would like to resolve the matter with the county,” he said. “But (my clients’) lives have been completely upended, and the county has refused to accept any responsibility for the injuries and damages they have caused.”
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.
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