Agency OKs further airport tree removal
KINGS BEACH – In a divisive move, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency staff Wednesday approved removal or trimming of some 300 trees at the Lake Tahoe Airport.
The polarizing permit was met with much consternation from several board members as the city of South Lake Tahoe is still settling a dispute with the TRPA about the unpermitted removal of 387 trees north of the airport in May.
The California Department of Forestry in June settled with the city of South Lake Tahoe for $10,000 for the city’s alleged failure to hire a certified forester to cut the trees.
In spite of the payout, the city attorney felt the settlement went in their favor.
“I think it shows how willing the only agency charged with forest health in the state of California is to not imposing a fine,” city attorney Catherine DiCamillo said. “If TRPA continues to make noises about a fine, we could use it as a legal basis.”
TRPA at the time alleged the city violated the conditions of its permit, which limited the number of trees cut to 100 between 6 and 10 inches in diameter.
City officials claimed the permit allows for the 100 trees, but also allows for all trees deemed a “hazard” by the Federal Aviation Administration.
At Wednesday’s Governing Board meeting, some members of the board felt the agency staff’s willingness to approve removal of additional trees was simply unacceptable.
The 300-tree removal permit was, under TRPA regulations, not required to be run by the board.
“To have staff without (board) acquiescence permit (the City of South Lake Tahoe) to take down 300 trees is (a mistake),” said board member Jerry Waldie. “One, I’m not keen on having a permit to take down that many trees and second, a permit will be issued in the next two weeks?
“There’s a (precedent) in law… (it) troubles me – one should not go to court with dirty hands. The City of South Lake Tahoe is coming at this with unclean hands.”
TRPA Executive Director John Singlaub tried to assuage Waldie and other board member’s concerns by noting that the City of South Lake Tahoe has come to the agency to make some kind of settlement agreement.
Indeed, in June TRPA lead attorney Joanne Marchetta told the Governing Board the city requested a meeting that could be a precursor to litigation. According to a 1992 settlement agreement between the city, TRPA, League to Save Lake Tahoe and California Attorney General’s office, the parties must not engage in negotiations on the airport’s operations unless they all meet formally.
Singlaub noted Wednesday he felt the city on behalf of the airport was making “an honest effort for public safety.”
Board member Jim Galloway, noting progress had been made toward a settlement and the truncated timeframe for the permit to cut additional trees, queried whether the settlement and permit could be “tied in.”
“I’m just wondering if we could expedite the settlement and do it all as a package,” Galloway said.
Before the discussions went further, TRPA attorney Marchetta interrupted and said any discussion of a proposed settlement between the city of South Lake Tahoe and the agency was a violation of attorney-client privilege.
She moved the matter be discussed further in closed session.
“Just put me down as a ‘no’ (for tree-cutting permits),” Waldie said.
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