Basin planning continues behind the scenes | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Basin planning continues behind the scenes

Patrick McCartney

Editor’s note: The Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum launched a complex effort to address Lake Tahoe’s environmental problems. Over the next three days, the Tahoe Daily Tribune will take a look at the progress in achieving its goals.

Forest Supervisor Juan Palma leafs through a handbook that identifies all the areas in the United States that Congress has given a special designation.

Included are lists of the nation’s wilderness areas, national forests, primitive areas, wild and scenic areas, national recreation areas, scenic research areas, game refuges, wildlife preserves and national monuments.

One area is conspicuously absent, though: Palma’s jurisdiction, the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

Carved out of portions of three national forests, the Tahoe unit remains an orphan of sorts, even as it has become the focus of a national campaign.

“The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit doesn’t exist,” Palma observes.

Coming up with a new name is just one part – although probably the most difficult – of a complicated process that started last summer.

Since President Clinton wrapped up the Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum last July, federal officials and Lake Tahoe residents have been meeting to hammer out a blueprint for restoring health to Lake Tahoe’s troubled environment.

Multiple challenges remain. The executive order Clinton signed last year mandated the coordination of efforts in the basin, and work has proceeded behind the scenes to implement that goal. The process is well under way.

What’s needed is an agreement about which projects are essential for the restoration of Lake Tahoe, and a commitment by all levels of government and the private sector to pay for those improvements. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is close to adopting a comprehensive list of more than 400 projects that would cost more than $900 million over the next 10 years to complete.

The states of California and Nevada are each studying ways to pay for their share of the program, and will probably place bond measures before voters this year.

While Clinton committed $26 million in new funding during his visit last year, federal officials are still studying what projects to endorse and how to pay for them. In the end, the federal commitment will in all likelihood be formalized in a legislative package, which will probably be introduced later this year by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

But before that can happen, Tahoe residents and federal officials must settle on a designation for the Tahoe Basin that everyone can live with. And that’s proving more difficult than some would expect.

“The trouble is that each of the existing designations carry some kind of baggage,” Palma explained.

National forests, for example, imply an emphasis on logging to some environmentalists. And recreation or scenic areas can bring with them a new set of regulations that others find objectionable.

“What we want to come up with is a name that will get on peoples’ road atlases, without being a current or future vehicle for increased regulation,” said Duane Wallace, executive director of the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce.

Wallace is a member of the private Water Quality and Transportation Coalition, a gathering of Tahoe economic and environmental interests seeking consensus on how to improve the basin. In the absence of a formal advisory panel called for by the president’s executive order, the debate over a designation for Lake Tahoe has occurred in the coalition’s meetings.

Rochelle Nason, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, also attends the coalition meetings. Like Wallace, Nason has her own concerns about which designation the federal government should give Lake Tahoe.

“I’d like to see a name for the area that reflects its special values in terms of scenic beauty and recreation status,” Nason said. “We think either scenic area or recreation area would be acceptable, but it would be nice to see both in a single designation.”

For his part, Palma said he would like to see the new name for the basin’s management unit come from local residents, rather than be imposed from the top down.

Next, a look at the coordination of the federal role in the basin.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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