Designation change would create funding |

Designation change would create funding

Business groups are giving a cautious nod to the draft of a federal bill proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, expected to be formally released on June 4, is designed to open doors to federal funds by giving the Tahoe Basin a special designation.

A draft form is being circulated for comment from the business community.

The bill proposes to designate the basin as the Lake Tahoe National Scenic Forest and Recreation Area, an intentional blending of several existing designations.

“The reason we strung all these words together is so we would not be any one of them,” said Steve Teshara, a member of the Lake Tahoe Transportation and Water Quality Coalition, which worked with Feinstein on the provisions of the bill.

By blending the terms, the coalition hopes to prevent the creation of another layer of regulation inherent in the designations of national recreation areas, scenic areas and national forests.

To further relieve concerns, the bill specifically states that it creates no additional regulatory authority or power.

“That language is a direct response to the input coming out of the committee last year,” Teshara said.

What the new designation is designed to do is more easily open funding doors for an estimated $900 million of environmental projects.

Currently, the Tahoe Basin includes three national forests lumped together under the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. USFS Supervisor Juan Palma explained that the existing designation is not recognized by Washington bureaucrats who hear funding appeals from 120 other national forests. The new designation would replace the management unit.

Besides creating a new name, the bill authorizes $20 million annually for implementation of the projects on the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s priority list. It also authorizes $10 million annually for Forest Service erosion control projects.

The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act is one effort to keep Lake Tahoe’s environmental needs, as outlined during the 1997 Presidential Forum on Lake Tahoe, visible in Washington.

“The Presidential Forum has a two- to-three-year shelf life,” Teshara said. “(The glow) of the forum will fade significantly when we change administrations.

“We need another platform to keep issues of Tahoe at the forefront.”

The concepts of the bill have received bipartisan and bistate support that is expected to help carry it through the legislative process.

Local business representatives have also endorsed the bill, in concept, but have not yet formed formal positions of support.

The Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors on Tuesday postponed a decision for additional study. The board is expected to address it during a planning retreat on Monday. The South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce on Thursday authorized its Economic and Environmental Committee to take a stand.

“It’s too important to go too fast,” said Chris Strohm, chair of that committee. “On the face of it, it looks like it will do what we want it to do.”

Feinstein hopes to have letters of support from community organizations before the June 4 press conference.

Although the draft proposal seems to have taken care of all the local issues, Teshara warns that it could change as it moves through the legislature.

“It’s something we need to track very carefully.”

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