City manager: Tree-cutting investigation is under way
South Lake Tahoe’s city attorney office is working full-time on an investigation of a large clear-cut on the north end of the airport by city crews, according to city manager David Jinkens.
He and city attorney Catherine DiCamillo said they have several questions and are diligently seeking answers on how, or if, the work expanded out of the parameters of a tree removal permit.
“We are going into much greater detail as we try to figure out what happened and why it happened,” Jinkens said.
Airport manager Smokey Rickerd told Jinkens he had a permit to remove obstructing trees for safety reasons.
Rickerd’s signature appears on the permit from the California Department of Forestry. A handwritten sentence under the title Special Conditions reads: “Trees to be removed as per FAA safety clearance requirements, # to be limited to (less than or equal to) 100 green trees (less than or equal to) 10 dbh (diameter at breast height) per year to meet TRPA Qualified Exempt Activity requirements.”
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency alleges 86 trees were cut outside the parameters of the permit.
Jinkens said safety is a concern, but does not trump other issues, such as the environment.
“There is still a safety issue, but it doesn’t mean everything else is immaterial,” Jinkens said.
Jinkens, who returned Wednesday from vacation in Canada, said he knew the work was taking place, but did not know the permit was restricted to 100 trees under 10 inches.
“I wasn’t aware what restrictions were in the permit, I didn’t see it,” Jinkens said. “I was briefed along with the airport committee that the department of aeronautics required that obstructions be removed. They were upset that they’d reported these obstructions over several years and nothing had been done.”
Airport maintenance crews cut down the trees, Jinkens said.
TRPA’s cease-and-desist order was delivered to Rickerd on May 30. TRPA alleges work continued after that point.
Rickerd was out of town after Tuesday’s City Council meeting – where the issue was discussed in closed session – to visit his father-in-law in the hospital, according to DiCamillo.
“He is out of communication,” she said.
The California Department of Transportation said in an April letter to Rickerd it would suspend night operations if certain safety measures were not immediately met.
DiCamillo said she would try to find out how many planes fly into the airport at night. Only planes small enough not to emit more than 77 decibels are allowed at night. Commercial service has not been available at the airport for several years.
Jinkens said people need to get permission if they want to visit the site.
“We do think there’s risk in inviting people to go out there. If people want to go on the land, they should get permission. It’s access onto an airport, which is restricted.”