Airport’s night operations suspended
The City of South Lake Tahoe is blaming the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency for a decision by Caltrans on Friday to suspend night operations at the Lake Tahoe Airport by June 16.
“This action is a result of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency issuing a cease-and-desist order that halted the obstruction-removal work previously mandated on airport lands by the State Division of Aeronautics,” according to a statement released by City Manager David Jinkens.
TRPA Executive Director John Singlaub told the Tahoe Daily Tribune on Friday that the agency has always worked with the city to address any safety concerns.
“If there are additional trees that need to be cut, they can call us. We’d be happy to mark the trees and let them do it,” Singlaub said.
In May, airport maintenance crews clear-cut a five-acre area that included many trees larger than 10 inches in diameter, and several that are considered old growth.
The TRPA issued the cease and desist order when it discovered the clear-cut. The agency alleges the city violated a permit issued by the California Department of Forestry limiting the cutting to 100 trees smaller than 10 inches.
The city says the work was done to comply with a mandate by Caltrans to immediately address safety requirements.
TRPA believes the clear-cut was not done in an environmentally responsible way. Singlaub believes the city could have complied immediately not by cutting trees, but by devising a timber harvesting plan.
“We don’t believe the way they did this was necessary for the safety related deficiencies that have been identified,” Singlaub said. “They have always worked with us in the past. We’re quite puzzled by this.”
The airport had an identical three-year tree-removal permit with CDF that expired in November. The permit was renewed this March and required trees be marked by paint before removal. No paint is apparent on any trees at the clear-cut site. To view the permit, look under “multimedia features” at http://www.TahoeDailyTribune.com.
Mixed feelings for airport future
Only planes that emit under 80 decibels are allowed at the airport, according to a legal agreement reached in 1987.
Public sentiment appears to be mixed on whether to restore commercial service – several airlines have landed at the airport over the years. Several City Council members advocate for it. But according to comments at public meetings, there is a contingent of people who want the airport restored to a meadow.
The airport sits on a former meadow of the Upper Truckee River, which is thought to be a main source of sediment clouding Lake Tahoe’s waters. Meadows are thought to be natural filters of sediment and other pollution.
The California Tahoe Conservancy is in review stages of a $1.5 million restoration project just south of the clear-cut area.
City staff discussed project
Jinkens said the tree-clearing work was discussed at a May airport subcommittee meeting, whose members include city councilmembers Mike Weber and Kathy Lovell. Jinkens said he did not look at the permit and was not aware of any restrictions.
City Attorney Catherine DiCamillo instructed council members not to discuss the issue until the city ascertained all the facts, according to several council members. The council was briefed during a closed session June 6. The item called “anticipated litigation” was added to the agenda that day, according to DiCamillo.
The airport group is an ad hoc subcommittee, and therefore not subject to the open meeting laws of the Brown Act, according to DiCamillo. No public announcements, agendas, minutes or recordings are required for such meetings, DiCamillo said.
The airport subcommittee was appointed in January. Only standing, or permanent, subcommittees are subject to the Brown Act.
DiCamillo could not say how many flights come into the airport at night.
“We don’t have a log that we can go to where they could be tracked that way,” she said. “I want to know that information too. I want to know how many people we were protecting by cutting down the trees.”
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