STATELINE, Nev. — U.S. Sen. John Ensign this week threw his support behind a plan to reinvigorate Lake Tahoe’s flagging economy.The embattled Republican senator met with civic and business leaders from both sides of the state line at Harveys Resort and Casino’s 19 Kitchen • Bar on Wednesday afternoon.How Lake Tahoe communities will shift the main economic driver of the region from gaming to recreation was a persistent theme throughout the meeting. The shift is one tenet of the recently developed Lake Tahoe Basin Prosperity Plan.Lakeside Inn and Casino CEO Mike Bradford said dramatic changes are needed to reinvent an “outdated” product and stem a “death spiral” of people leaving town and school enrollment numbers dropping.Projects like turning the Stateline casino corridor into a more pedestrian-friendly environment by constructing a loop road are needed to make the South Shore a world-class destination, Bradford said.“We either make huge change or we’re strapped with what we’ve got virtually indefinitely,” Bradford said.There are areas where the private sector is going to need help making the shift, like public transportation, Bradford added.Strategic Marketing Group owner Carl Ribaudo said changing the existing situation has reached a critical point and urged Ensign to do whatever he could to help the region.“We can’t spend a generation implementing these ideas anymore,” Ribaudo said. “Whatever you can do from Washington is very much appreciated.” Ensign seemed receptive to the shift in focus from gaming to recreation.“I’m excited about your vision,” Ensign said.“How does it get better than this for outdoor recreation?” Ensign asked while looking out over the lake.But “outside-of-the-box” thinking will be needed to make the changes, Ensign added.Earmarking legislation to fund local projects won’t be available for the next couple years because of pressure against the practice, Ensign said.The momentum opposing earmarking means project proponents in the basin are going to need to become more competitive in the federal bidding processes, Ensign said.Possibly including public transportation projects in the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act is another option that should be looked at, Ensign said. The act funds environmental improvement projects throughout Nevada and the Lake Tahoe Basin.One aspect of the shift from gaming to recreation Ensign said he has concerns with are bike paths.Ensign, a cyclist himself, said improving road shoulders is a more effective way to encourage bicycling. He said serious bicyclists won’t use bike paths, and the paths themselves lead to conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians.Several attendees thanked Ensign for his support of the region at the end to Wednesday’s meeting.How much longer that support will be there is uncertain.Ensign is under federal investigation following an extramarital affair with the wife of an employee and longtime friend.The senator acknowledged the affair with Cynthia Hampton in June. He also said he helped her husband, Doug Hampton, gain employment with a lobbying firm, and his parents provided the Hampstons with a payment of nearly $100,000 that they described as a gift. Ensign has denied doing anything illegal.He is up for re-election in 2012 and expected to face an uphill battle. — The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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