PacBell agrees to remove 8 miles of defunct lead telephone cables from Lake Tahoe

Article from Sacramento Bee.

By Michael McGough
Updated November 12, 2021 2:52 PM

AT&T-owned Pacific Bell will remove two large, defunct telephone cables from the bottom of Lake Tahoe, following an agreement reached in federal court in response to a California environmental nonprofit’s legal complaint.

The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance filed a complaint this January against Pacific Bell Telephone Co., arguing that the presence of PacBell submarine telephone lines on the west side of Lake Tahoe violates federal and state environmental rules.

CSPA alleged that the equipment pollutes the lake with vast amounts of lead, a claim that AT&T continues to dispute.

“Local divers discovered the abandoned cables years ago while removing other trash from the lake bottom, and the non-profit California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) brought suit under federal law and California’s Proposition 65,” another California-based nonprofit, the Center for Environmental Health, said in a Wednesday news release.

Proposition 65, passed by voters in 1986, deals with safe drinking water standards.

The PacBell telephone cables contain copper transmission wires, shielded by lead sheathing. The Center for Environmental Health claimed the two cables contain 63 tons of lead, which the group alleged had been leaching into Lake Tahoe at rates far above legal limits.

“We are committed to preserving one of the most scenic freshwater lakes in the Sierra Nevada,” an AT&T spokesperson said in a statement. “We have agreed to remove these cables because they are no longer in use, however, we dispute any notion that they were a source of pollution.”

CSPA said in its complaint filing that it “submerged a sample of Cable A,” a stretch near Emerald Bay already with cuts at both ends, “in a plastic container filled with Lake Tahoe water.”

The nonprofit contends that it sent the sample to a “state-certified laboratory for analysis, which showed that enough lead had leached from the piece of the Cable to bring the concentration of lead in the water to 650 micrograms per liter.”

AT&T, though, says it hired an expert firm to examine water samples from Lake Tahoe, both near and away from the cables, and that this analysis did not detect any release of lead into the lake, according to the spokesperson.

Pacific Bell said in legal filings that it no longer owns the cables due to expired easements, and that it stopped using them in or around the 1980s, court documents show.

Under a consent decree finalized last week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, Pacific Bell admitted no fault or liability, but agreed to make $1.5 million in funding available for removing the two cables, which span about 8 miles.

The funding should be more than enough to cover the cost of removal, which the court order notes is estimated to range between $275,000 and $550,000. The court order also stipulated that Pacific Bell would pursue the process of securing all necessary permits or authorizations for lawful removal starting within five days of the decree being finalized, which it was Oct. 5.

“Defendant shall remove the Cables from Lake Tahoe and transport them for lawful off-site disposal or to a cable recycler within ninety (90) days following receipt of all Authorizations or the Court Entry Date, whichever is later,” the decree reads.

Pacific Bell was also ordered to reimburse $220,000 of CSPA’s legal costs.

“Lake Tahoe is one of California’s iconic waterways,” Bill Jennings, executive director of CSPA, said in a prepared statement.

“We’re proud to help get this toxic garbage out of the Lake.”

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.