City may intervene in forest fuels suit |

City may intervene in forest fuels suit

South Lake Tahoe will have a voice in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups in June challenging how forest fuels reduction projects proceed in the Lake Tahoe Basin, a judge ruled last week.

On Sept. 10, El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Steven Bailey filed a written ruling indicating the city can intervene in a lawsuit by the Sierra Forest Legacy and the Tahoe Area Sierra Club disputing a 2008 agreement between the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. The agreement made the TRPA the primary agency responsible for reviewing fuel reduction projects in the basin.

The agreement violates California law and would leave the basin susceptible to significant environmental damage because it does not include specific monitoring requirements for fuels reduction projects, according to the groups.

The agreement was necessary to streamline fuels reduction efforts, reduce the city’s risk from wildfires and prevent the city from losing millions of dollars in grant funding because of delays created by the dual agency system that existed before the 2008 agreement, the city argued.

Although the intervention is not justified by the possible loss of funding, the city’s responsibility to protect public safety allows city involvement in the matter, Bailey said in decision.

“This litigation will likely impact fire management and the protection of the citizens of South Lake Tahoe,” Bailey said. “Fire protection is of such critical importance to the city and its citizens that the grant of intervention by the city is justified.”

During a court hearing on Sept. 4, Bailey sanctioned Michael Graf, the attorney representing the environmental groups, $859.59 for using a cell phone to communicate with the court during a hearing on the city’s intervention into the suit in August. The August hearing was unable to proceed after the court call from Graf was dropped.

Although Bailey said he understood Graf was on vacation at the time of the hearing, he said court rules are “absolutely clear” that lawyers are prohibited from using cell phones during hearings in which they participate telephonically.

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