By Deb Murphy
The Mono County Board of Supervisors expressed sympathy for Matthew Lehman’s plight at its October 20 meeting. However, all that understanding was followed by a lethal “but,” as the Board voted 4-0 to uphold the noise variance for the Lower Rock Creek Mutual Water Company’s new well drilling operation for the 145 shareholders in Paradise.
Lehman appealed the variance granted at last month’s Planning Commission meeting on the basis of unfairness. Lehman was denied a noise variance in 2005 when he began drilling two wells to supply his proposed 50-plus acre Rock Creek Ranch development, a project that abuts Paradise. In 2006, he was granted a noise variance and a 24/7 drilling schedule but only for 10 days, while the water company’s variance ran for 30 days.
LRCMWC’s need for a new, second well is obvious after four years of drought and a faltering well drilled in 1993. Water company board member Steve Frederickson explained the new well will not increase production. “We can only use one well at a time,” he said. Once the replacement well is on line, the existing well will be refurbished provide redundancy.
Supervisor Tim Alpers admitted that county regs for developers were “onerous,” but, as Supervisor Stacy Corless said “there’s no choice but to uphold” the variance.
Lehman also maintained that the California Environmental Quality Act was “not properly addressed.” LRCMWC attorney Tim Sanford explained that CEQA issues were addressed in 2010 when the company developed its Specific Plan. Sanford defined Lehman’s basis for his appeal as “he was treated unfairly so should LRCMWC be treated unfairly.” Since the only basis for the variance was cause for appeal, as opposed to “biased applicant treatment,” according to Planning Department staff, the Supervisors had the option of not hearing the appeal at all.
If all this wasn’t odd enough, LRCMWC President Jim Moyer and Sanford’s description of meetings with Lehman were even odder. According to Sanford, Lehman threatened a lawsuit if LRCMWC proceeded with the well, forcing the company to use its well money for attorneys.
During a meeting with Lehman earlier this month, Moyer said, the developer offered to sell the land to the water company for $600,000 and incorporate its two wells into the Paradise system. The offer didn’t fly.
According to Moyer, Lehman’s well water would require treatment due to arsenic levels above the maximum levels. In addition, the wells are a half-mile away from the company’s water tanks with no electricity on site to operate the pumps. All this would escalate the cost far beyond the $250,000 estimate for the new well and into the millions of dollars.
While Lehman maintained there were no differences between the two variance requests, Sanford outlined many. The LRCMWC’s well raises Health and Safety issues since it supplies water to 145 residents. Lehman’s Rock Creek Ranch is an as yet unapproved development, just bare land. Also, the water company’s well site is at the bottom of a canyon where noise cannot be mitigated. The variance was strongly supported by those impacted by the noise. Lehman’s well site was above the canyon and he was able to mitigate the noise with stacks of hay bales.
Lehman’s appeal did succeed in one area: the LRCMWC had to postpone the drilling until next spring. As for Moyer, he just hopes the dispute is over.
Lehman is out of the area and could not be reached for comment.