Alleged tree killer may be fined $17,000
A man who owns a multimillion-dollar home at the North Shore could be short $17,000 for allegedly poisoning three large Jeffrey pines to improve his view of Lake Tahoe, a fine the Sierra Club called laughable on Friday.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Governing Board will decide Wednesday whether to approve a settlement agreement with John R. Fitzhenry which includes a five-year tree restoration plan and a $5,000 security deposit to guarantee completion of the plan.
Fitzhenry paid $2.4 million in 2004 for the 4,200-square-foot home on Dollar Point, according to the Placer County Assessor’s office.
Fitzhenry allegedly admitted to drilling holes in the base of the trees and applying herbicide to poison them, according to TRPA documents. He also allegedly removed the upper branches of another tree. The violation was discovered when he requested a TRPA tree removal permit last summer.
“People who have a lot of money think nothing of paying the fine; it’s no detriment to them at all,” said Michael Donahoe, conservation co-chair of the Tahoe area Sierra Club. “They include it in the cost of doing business. Catch me if you can is the mantra.”
He said low fine amounts for the wealthy are a reason why TRPA has a bad reputation in the community.
Fitzhenry and his lawyer Drew Briner could not be reached for comment. Fitzhenry’s phone number is not listed.
TRPA’s fines are based on its bi-state compact, signed into law by Nevada and California lawmakers more than 30 years ago and amended in 1980. For each violation, there is a maximum fine of $5,000 per day.
“We are very concerned about homeowners who willingly violate the regional plan and environmental policies,” said TRPA spokeswoman Julie Regan. “We don’t want to standardize a potential fine and have people include it into the cost of buying or building their home.”
The agency’s legal committee is looking for ways to give a stronger deterrent, she said. Ability to pay has been a factor in past fines, she said.
The item is on the board’s consent calendar, which usually does not involve discussion. A member of the public can request to have it removed from the consent calendar and opened for discussion, Regan said.
Donahoe said he’s tired of hearing people joke about paying such low fines for a possible improvement to their property value in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The agency responded with this statement: “The proposed settlement amount is consistent with past tree damage violations resolved by the Governing Board, as well as applicable legal requirements. TRPA staff believes that the payment and implementation of on-site forest health restoration measures constitute a fair and appropriate resolution of the tree damage on the Fitzhenry property.”
Jeffreys once dominated Tahoe’s forests, where frequent fires opened sunny spaces for them to grow. Now Jeffreys are often crowded out by shade-tolerant firs. Their cones are very large, second only to the sugar pine, and they emit a vanilla smell from their bark.
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