Homeowners angry about creek rerouting | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Homeowners angry about creek rerouting

Robert Stern

Residents on Ormsby Drive who now enjoy the sight and sounds of Trout Creek are angry at facing the loss of the creek, located just outside their property lines.

“I paid premium dollars for my lot back in 1976, and the neighbors, who moved into Ormsby Drive, feel like they have paid premium price for property on a meadow up against a creek,” said homeowner Pat Dinapoli.

But the creek, which residents are so concerned about, is not on any of their private property.

“The existing creek and proposed creek are all on city property. No alignment past or present has gone through (the residents’) property, and that is a key issue,” said associate city engineer Steve Kooyman.

The creek is being rerouted as part of an Environmental Improvement Project, resulting from the 1997 presidential mandate that called for $907 million in environmental improvements at Lake Tahoe.

The Trout Creek project, which began in 1999, is intended to restore the creek to its original path, 300 feet away from its current location, creating a wetland which would catch sediment, protecting the lake’s clarity and increasing natural wildlife. The $3.5 million project, which covers 10,000 linear feet, is scheduled for completion this fall.

The creek was originally rerouted during the silver mining days of the Comstock period over 100 years ago.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” said project engineer Jim Haen. “Man altered that creek, and the city is using grant funds to try to return it to its more natural alignment.”

But residents who bought the property because of their attraction to the creek are outraged.

“When I sit on the deck of my home, I see Trout Creek, I hear Trout Creek, and I see the animals come down to the water,” Dinapoli said.

But residents are not only going to lose a close view of the creek, but will have it replaced with still water, a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

“We would like to see running water, because we don’t want to see a pond out there with a mosquito problem,” said homeowner Sandy Cook.

However, Virginia Hubert, who is in charge of mosquito abatement for El Dorado County Environmental Health, said, after visiting the site, there should be no problem controlling any increase in the mosquito population, and the neighbors should not be affected.

Residents of Ormsby Drive have met with project designers on the project over a three-year period to come up with a mutually agreeable solution, but say they have been tricked by engineer Jim Haen, who promised alternative solutions after a May, 2000 meeting, including rerouting of nearby Cold Creek to keep some water flow.

“We took the man at his word that he was honorable, and that has come under question,” Dinapoli said.

One of the residents, Cathy Gonsalves, said she tried to find out what those alternatives were for a long time before getting any answers.

“Every time I went out there, they would just placate us,” Gonsalves said. “To myself or any of our neighbors, they would just say, ‘Your alternatives are in the works.'”

Those alternatives, although eventually presented to the group of neighbors in January 2001 were scrapped by Haen, who recommended against rerouting Cold Creek.

“For scientific, restoration, permitting issues and cost, it was our recommendation to the city not to consider any of those alternatives,” Haen said. Although, he said, the city could still reroute Cold Creek for an estimated $300,000, assuming the necessary agencies approved the permits.

“I’m sympathetic,” Haen said. “If you have a creek in your backyard and you love it, I can understand, but I’m still obligated to recommend to the city what is best for meeting the project objectives.”

Gonsalves said part of the reason she and her husband purchased the property is because they knew the land was in a stream environment zone and could not be built on.

Gonsalves wrote City Attorney Cathy DiCamillo to plead her case, but no lawsuits have been filed.

“All the appropriate processes were followed by the city,” DiCamillo said. She plans on reviewing the letter and the project in more detail and said she will respond within a few days.

Like many neighborhood residents, George Giguere is afraid the project could lower property values.

“We’re concerned, because we have this beautiful view,” he said.

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