City: Forest Service Angora fire recovery plan ‘inadequate’
Recognizing the delicate balance of nature following the Angora fire, the city pushed hard on initiatives to keep South Lake Tahoe safe from fire in summer and rain in winter.
During a debriefing, the council heard concerns from its public works director regarding the extent of rehabilitation planned by the U.S. Forest Service. John Greenhut told council members that the federal agency’s efforts announced last week don’t go far enough to reduce the risk of fire and flood. The Angora fire consumed 254 homes in the North Upper Truckee and Tahoe Mountain neighborhoods, charred 3,100 acres, cost $12 million to fight, and caused an estimated $160 million damage.
Also Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called for the Forest Service and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to re-evaluate the permitting process relative to tree removal and fuel reduction. Both agencies have pledged to review policies.
Greenhut called the initial report of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit’s Burn Area Emergency Response (BAER) “inadequate.” He said in a harsh winter, a thick paste could carry burn debris down the slopes and into drains, causing clogs. He pinpointed areas of jeopardy as a down-slope site west of South Tahoe High School and another west of Gardner Street.
“If we get heavy debris flow, we won’t have time to react,” he said.
He was joined by a worried City Council, with some members cringing over the thought of winter storms like that of New Year’s Eve 2005 — which caused about $9 million in damage to El Dorado County.
But LTBMU Supervisor Teri Marceron and BAER team hydrologist Stephanie Heller assured the council the report represents an early phase of work in the fire zone, and the team developed a computer model based on its geologist’s assessment.
“There will be some debris flow. We can’t stop all of it,” Heller said.
“All models fall short of reality,” Councilman Bill Crawford said. “This needs to be tested in the field.”
Mayor Kathay Lovell concurred, asking if the model creators considered a wet winter. The model was set by effects of the two- to five-year storm. The New Year’s Eve flood was a 50-year event.
The U.S. Forest Service has scheduled a three-tiered, $2.2 million recovery plan for the Angora fire including fire suppression, the current “temporary emergency” rehabilitation, and long-term recovery focusing on revegetation, stream restoration, and hazard tree cutting, Marceron outlined.
The plan concentrates on 20 percent — equal to 636 acres — of the “high burn area.” Fire fuel reduction treatment involves taking mechanical devices like chain saws into stream environment zones.
“We’ve never done that before,” Marceron told the council.
The sensitive areas have been off-limits to these methods of thinning because of their impact on lake clarity, prompting a backlash among residents over a perceived stifling bureaucracy in the basin.
In particular, the Lahontan Water Board has issued stricter water quality control guidelines for the city to follow. City officials are also concerned increased storm water runoff will make the government vulnerable to fines.
Feinstein asked the Forest Service — which owns 80 percent of the land around the basin — and TRPA to streamline the process to implement the forest management plan. She wrote to Forest Service Chief Gale Kimbell and TRPA Executive Director John Singlaub to see to the changes.