TUD looks to force land sale

Written by Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat April 11, 2013 09:39 am

If the Tuolumne Utilities District wants land near Twain Harte for future water storage, the district will likely have to get it through unusual means.

District leaders said this week that the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council will likely decide to keep about 40 acres on the district’s main canal in the hands of PG&E. TUD has been trying to obtain the land to possibly build a reservoir that would supply customers with water if the district’s main canal failed or if district flumes burned.

District General Manager Pete Kampa said on Tuesday that TUD could still obtain the land through a “condemnation” process — in which the land is taken involuntarily for public use. And according to district legal counsel, both the utility and stewardship council would not oppose such a move.

“They’re making TUD jump through the extra hoop of condemning it rather than just deeding it,” said Jesse Barton, the district’s attorney.

The proposed land transfer is part of a bankruptcy settlement through which PG&E is turning over 140,000 acres of private land around the state for preservation. The Stewardship Council was established as part of the settlement to make sure the land is conserved for the public good and used for outdoor recreation, sustainable forestry, agriculture, habitat protection, open space preservation and/or protection of historic and cultural resources.

Barton said condemning the property would involve assessing the property’s value and the district would have to pay market value. The move would also have to take place before an easement is put on the land for conservation, and Barton said TUD and PG&E would have to make sure the easement allows for the possible construction of the small reservoir.

“We’d make very sure that water supply is one of the big uses for that property,” he said.

According to the TUD, 95 percent of the county’s water supply is delivered through the flume which is owned and maintained by PG&E. A study conducted by TUD on the flume found it to be vulnerable to failure, and Kampa said the district could supply customers for about a month in the event of a major failure.

An emergency supply reservoir would cost millions, and Kampa said they have only done initial work on the idea to make sure there are no “fatal flaws.”