Tahoe-area developer fined $2.75 million

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RENO " A development company has been slapped with a record-setting $2.75 million fine for water quality violations during an expansion project at a Sierra Nevada ski resort, California state environmental regulators said.

The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board has approved a settlement calling for Northstar Mountain Properties to pay $500,000 in cash to the state and $2.25 million for environmental improvements.

The company has been constructing residential and commercial projects at the Northstar ski resort just north of Lake Tahoe.

It's the largest fine ever imposed by one of California's nine regional water boards for a stormwater-related violation during a construction project, Lahontan water board officials said.

"We take stormwater permit compliance very seriously," said Jack Clarke, chair of the water board. "The development and construction industries should take note of the significant consequences associated with violating the state's water quality protection laws and regulations."

Violations at 11 project sites stemmed from Northstar Mountain Properties' failure to adequately install and maintain stormwater controls, said Scott Ferguson, a senior engineer with the board.

That resulted in four discharges of sediment-laden stormwater into Martis Creek tributaries, he said. The creek is a tributary of the Truckee River, the Reno area's major water source.

Northstar Mountain Properties spokesman Blake Riva said the violations stemmed from activity in 2006, when the company tried "to do too much in too short a period of time" because of the Sierra's limited construction season.

No new violations have occurred since then, Lahontan officials said.

"We're pleased to bring this matter to resolution," Riva said Friday. "Through changing our approach ... to ensure compliance we are better positioned to avoid any future problems."

Under the settlement approved Wednesday night, Northstar Mountain Properties will pay $500,000 to the State Water Resource Control Board.

The remaining $2.25 million will fund major environmental improvements at Northstar and the nearby 1,462-acre Waddle Ranch, which was recently acquired by the Truckee Donner Land Trust for protection through a conservation easement, Ferguson said.

The money will go toward watershed improvements at the ranch and to forest and riparian improvements at Northstar.

"The settlement will result in many water quality enhancements that will directly benefit the affected watershed," Clarke said.

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