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Federal officials discount special designation of Lake Tahoe

Patrick McCartney

As excitement grows over the Lake Tahoe visit by President Clinton and Vice President Gore later this month, murmurs of concern over an increased federal role in the Tahoe Basin have circulated in conservative political circles.

It was Clinton’s action in Utah, locking up an area with significant coal reserves by designating it a national recreation area, that upset many property-rights advocates, said Kevin Ring, an aide to Rep. John Doolittle, R-Roseville.

“The first comment of a lot of people was, after what Clinton did in Utah, was he going to make some type of designation that would tie up Tahoe,” Ring said. “A lot of people in Utah received a surprise. I don’t know if even Hillary knew.”



Ring said Doolittle has informally expressed his concerns to the administration.

Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Reno, also has expressed his concern over the possible declaration of Lake Tahoe as a United Nations heritage zone, or other status that would add another layer of government to management of the basin, according to news reports.



On Monday, though, two members of Clinton’s Cabinet denied any such action is in the works.

“We’ve come here with the idea of strengthening local involvement,” said Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt during a tour of an Incline Village greenbelt. “This is a local project; our role is as a partner. There are no property rights issues that I am aware of at stake in the presidential forum.”

When pressed about the possibility that the president would make any designation, including naming Lake Tahoe a national recreation area, Babbitt adamantly denied that Clinton would take any such action.

“An unequivocal no,” Babbitt stated.

Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman said he was aware of no such discussions within the Clinton administration to make a surprise announcement about the status of Lake Tahoe. He disputed reported statements by Gibbons that the Nevada representative is concerned that the president will name Lake Tahoe a UN heritage zone.

“He must be talking to a whole different set of people than I am,” Glickman said. “The UN is not involved in this forum. This is an American issue with local involvement.”

Nevada’s two Democratic senators each took a swipe at the rumors swirling around the property-rights and conservative groups.

“The UN has no legal authority here whatsoever,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev. “There are those people who subscribe to the conspiracy theory of history and have a fanatical hatred of the government’s management of public lands.”

And U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., also discounted any chance for Lake Tahoe being handed over to the United Nations.

“Why would the UN want the Tahoe Basin?” Reid asked. “They’re broke now.”

Denials aside, the president’s visit to Lake Tahoe will no doubt continue to the fears of some who distrust the administration’s agenda for public lands.

Gibbons’ concerns have not risen to the point where he has notified the president, an aide said last week.

But others plan to use the president’s visit to lobby against federal land-use policies in the West. People for the West, part of what some call the “Wise Use” movement of restraining the federal government’s role in western states, plans to conduct a rally while the president is in the basin.


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