Keys wetlands project to be delayed a year |

Keys wetlands project to be delayed a year

California Tahoe Conservancy officials say they have done everything they can to appease concerns from Tahoe Keys residents about the first phase of a huge wetlands restoration project.

Start of the project had been scheduled for this summer and would have included numerous trucks hauling dirt through Keys neighborhoods. After fielding multiple complaints about the project, the Conservancy last November decided to put off the work for one year. Even if all the objections have disappeared now, work won’t be able to start until 2001 because of the delay.

“I think we’ve addressed their concerns to the extent we can,” said Steve Goldman of the Conservancy. “We can’t make the trucks go away. There will be noise and diesel smoke. We can’t eliminate everything, but I think we’ve addressed all the issues they brought up as best as possible.”

Because of past development, including the construction of the Tahoe Keys, the lower 2,000 feet of the meandering 14-mile-long Upper Truckee River have been straightened. The large wetlands at the mouth of the river no longer works as effectively as it naturally did to filter out sediment flowing down the river. Sediment, which is largely blamed for Lake Tahoe’s constantly declining clarity, is essentially piped into the lake at the mouth of the river.

The Conservancy, a California agency that buys and preserves environmentally sensitive parcels in the basin, purchased 200 acres surrounding the disturbed river in 1988.

The first phase of the work will involve removing 78,000 cubic yards of dirt from the area. That would lead to about 7,000 dump truck trips on some Keys streets: Venice Drive, 15th Street, Eloise Avenue, James Avenue and Third Street.

Previously the Conservancy had planned to do the work over the summers of 2000 and 2001. Goldman said the agency still plans to get all of the hauling done in 2001. Other work, such as planting vegetation, would still happen in 2002, but the noisy, objectionable part of the job would be over.

A special meeting is scheduled March 15 for Tahoe residents to further talk about the plan. The Conservancy also will update the South Lake Tahoe City Council on March 21 about the restoration project.

The Conservancy’s long-term plans include rechanneling parts of the river; taking fish habitat restoration, revegetation and bank-stabilization measures; and building trails, parking areas and other public access improvements.

The entire restoration of that portion of the river is identified in the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Environmental Improvement Program.

“For several years, we have been focusing on the Upper Truckee River wetlands,” said Pam Drum, public affairs coordinator of TRPA. “A lot of money has been spent on the watershed, the Upper Truckee River and its tributaries. The very end of the river system is a critical component of effectively restoring that watershed.

“The restoration of the Upper Truckee River will not be complete until the lower portion is done. As the largest, most highly disturbed watershed in the Lake Tahoe Basin, we believe every effort has to be made to complete the restoration of the entire watershed.”

Historically, the Upper Truckee River and Trout Creek, which together account for a third of Tahoe’s watershed, converged in the Truckee Marsh, by far the biggest wetlands in the Tahoe Basin.

In the 1950s and 1960s, with the construction of the Tahoe Keys, a large South Shore neighborhood with lagoons and channels, half of the marsh was destroyed.

A big chunk of the remaining wetland still is privately owned, and cattle graze there in the summer.

Earl Brothers, a Keys resident and longtime critic of the proposed restoration, said his fears would be better alleviated if the Conservancy purchased all the land there, removed the cows and then started its wetlands restoration project.

“If they would do all that first, my objections would go away a lot,” he said. “They are spending a lot of money that will give us only a little bit of wetlands.”

At a price of $699,000, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board plans to fund the project’s first phase.

Because Lahontan’s board wants work completed with the money, Lauri Kemper, chief of the agency’s Tahoe unit, said state officials hope the project isn’t put off even more.

“Further delay could threaten (the funding), but at this point I think the board wants to support it and get it built,” she said.

What: Conservancy meeting

When: Wednesday, 7 to 9 p.m.

Where: City Council Chambers, 1900 Lake Tahoe Blvd.

Information: (530) 542-5580

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