Company faces fines for cutting down old-growth
KINGS BEACH – A Grass Valley-based timber company is going to “defend vigorously in federal court” after Lake Tahoe regulators Wednesday agreed to fine it $160,000 for allegedly felling 49 old-growth trees.
Mark Salyer, California administrative manager for Menasha Corp., said after a hearing before the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency that he was disappointed with the decision.
“I am proud of the job Menasha did on this harvest,” Salyer said. “The forest is in much better shape than it was before the harvest.”
TRPA has litigation pending against Menasha if the civil liability isn’t paid. When asked after the hearing what Menasha would do now, Salyer answered: “defend vigorously in federal court.”
The tree-thinning project for which all this hullabaloo is about happened about one year ago. Hired by the Tahoe City Public Utility District, Menasha was to thin the forest on 113 West Shore acres to reduce the threat of wildfire and improve the health of the forest.
Afterward, however, TRPA and Menasha disputed what had happened. TRPA alleges that 80 conditions of its permit were violated, which included allegations of felling 49 trees of 30-inches or more diameter without permission. Trees that size, likely more than 100 years old, are protected by a TRPA old-growth ordinance. Loggers must get tree-by-tree permission to fell them. About 5 percent of the basin’s forests are old growth.
Menasha admits there was miscommunication and that it didn’t follow some of the conditions of the permit. However, the company has long maintained that its work benefited the forest and that a civil penalty was uncalled for.
Jerome Waldie, chair of the legal committee of TRPA, presided over a six-hour quasi-judicial hearing in January to determine if he believed TRPA should continue with its plans to fine Menasha. Waldie, a former congressman and now the California Senate Rules Committee appointee to TRPA’s board, recommended to the board Wednesday the $160,000 fine, which was about $2,000 for each violation.
“We really do care about trees 30 inches in diameter or more,” Waldie said. “We look at any loss of those with a great sense of deprivation.”
Terry Giles, the governor of California’s representative on the board, said he thought Menasha had not acted maliciously, and he believed that the trees removed may have needed to be cut. However, he said the bistate regulatory agency should be strict about its rules being followed. If not it could set a bad precedent for other logging companies or people that have to follow TRPA rules.
“I think we’re in trouble if we don’t make this a strict liability,” he said.
TCPUD, which acts as a parks and recreation service for an area of the West Shore, was named in the fine also because it owns the land. However, Menasha, as the company that performed the work, has indemnified the government agency.
Besides the 49 old growth trees, other alleged violations included hauling 16 loads of trees away before getting permission and littering a stream zone with debris from the tree harvest.
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