It’s time to dig up the earth |

It’s time to dig up the earth

Jenifer Ragland

Gentlemen, start your back hoes.

Grading season in the Lake Tahoe Basin has arrived.

After six and a half months of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s no-grading mandate, contractors and road workers are planning for another busy summer.

“We’ve got a lot to do – we should be really busy starting tomorrow,” said Mike Clauss, owner of Clauss Excavation, Inc. in Homewood. “It’s such a short season because you can only go to Oct. 15, so you have to do the best you can to get everything done.”

The TRPA has imposed a timeframe for grading – May 1 to Oct. 15 – since at least 1974, said Pam Drum, agency spokeswoman.

Grading is moving or digging more than seven cubic yards of soil. Its purpose is consistent with TRPA’s overall function – to preserve the environment of Lake Tahoe.

“When doing major excavation projects, we want to do them when there is less of a chance for storm activity, because it’s a more stable time to be disturbing soils,” she said. “Stormwater runoff takes loose, disturbed soil with it … into streams and rivers and into the lake.”

Hal Cole, South Lake Tahoe city councilman and owner of Cole Enterprises, said while he is usually busy at this time, he doesn’t have a project starting early this year and is “breathing easy.”

“I’m watching everybody else scramble to put things together,” Cole said. “In our small town there are a limited amount of foundation and excavation contractors for projects, so the big trick is getting them lined up to do your job on May 1.”

Damage from severe winter storms is making this season’s rush to start projects particularly pressing.

“We are starting to get into the shoulder repair program, and we can’t do that until May 1,” said Scott Rogers, street superintendent for the city of South Lake Tahoe. “After the winter storms we’re trying to put things back together, but the season is short, so we try to take advantage of the full season.”

Rob Nemetz, vice president of RA Nemetz Construction, said flooding problems may also delay projects that had to be abandoned Oct. 15.

“We have one job for the Forest Service near Homewood where we anticipate going back and the damage being much greater,” he said. “The work we have to do there could increase.”

The season is also busy for the regulatory agency, as staff considers permit requests, performs pre-grade inspections and conducts site visits, Drum said.

Although the grading season can be a burden to contractors trying to complete larger jobs, she said most local companies are aware of the restrictions and respect them.

The unique restriction also forces contractors to find other ways of making money from Oct. 15 to May 1, Nemetz said. Many rely on snow removal, while others work on jobs in Northern California and Nevada.

But Clauss said because the snow removal season dropped off in mid-February, many contractors will be rejoicing the onset of May 1.

“I’m sure a lot of those guys are hungry and ready to go to work,” he said.

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