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Douglas County questions new basin designation

Michael Schneider

Douglas County is struggling with designating the Tahoe Basin as a metropolitan planning organization.

While the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s push to attain the designation has been supported throughout the basin, Douglas commissioners, who have long-blasted the TRPA for interfering with business, have looked at the designation with reservation.

Estimates would give the basin hundreds of thousands of dollars each year and the opportunity to compete with other western states’ MPOs for millions more in transportation funds.

For the fourth time this year, Douglas commissioners will consider support for the Tahoe MPO.

According to Commissioner Don Miner, the first time the concept of the TMPO was brought before the commission, commissioners did not like the idea, nor the TRPA, for that matter.

The second time, Miner said, approval was given to the designation based on certain conditions. When the TRPA did not address Douglas’ concerns, “Round 3” between TRPA executive director Jim Baetge and Richard Wiggins, the TRPA planner working on the MPO, and the commission took place.

At that meeting about a month ago, commissioners, in a split vote, decided to continue to support the MPO, but gave the TRPA a list of concerns they wanted addressed.

The conditions include streamlining the new process, curbing staff and planning costs, implementing funds for engineering and new projects, the Tahoe Transportation District serving as the Tahoe Transportation Commission, separate citizens committee may not be formed, and the Tahoe Transportation District and Tahoe Transportation Commission may only have one technical advisory committee.

“If we’re going to support it, it must follow these guidelines,” Miner said at the Sept. 17 meeting.

Baetge seemed to agree with the commission at the meeting, but, one month later, Miner said things again have soured.

“We would have liked some response to that,” Miner said. “They completely ignored our wishes.”

Neither Baetge nor Wiggins were available for comment Wednesday.

Miner said the county’s staff has identified other MPO concerns since the September meeting, including structure, funding and air quality conformity.

According to Miner, if the Tahoe Basin does not meet MPO air quality standards, all development and redevelopment projects could be halted until studies can be done to identify the problems and measures can be taken to mitigate them.

“We have redevelopment planned for the basin,” Miner said, referring to a planned Kingsbury redevelopment. “We don’t want to be a part of it (the MPO) if we’re risking an impact on our ability to do business.”

To get the TMPO off the ground, only 75 percent of the participating governments need to support the designation, so the TRPA would not likely have to convince Douglas to support it for the TMPO to exist.

However, both the California and Nevada governors would have to sign off on the designation before it could happen. Both the California and Nevada gubernatorial seats are being contested Nov. 3 and neither incumbent is running.

Who: Douglas County Commission

Where: Lake Administration Building, 175 U.S. Highway 50

When: 1:30 p.m.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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