Lahontan allocates $2.2 million for projects
Two million dollars generated by Tahoe Keys property owners will be used to enhance the quality of the environment, but none of it will be spent on improvement projects in the Tahoe Keys.
The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board approved the allocation of approximately $2 million from the Tahoe Keys Property Owners’ Association mitigation fund for environmental improvement projects Thursday, leaving the Keys out.
“We got zero” said Earl Brothers, a Tahoe Keys Property Association board member. “They exhausted the supply of mitigation funds by giving it to other agencies.”
As part of a 1982 amendment, the California Regional Planning Agency, now defunct, stated all Tahoe Keys property owners had to pay $4,000 to eradicate environmental problems stemming from the development, said Lauri Kemper, an employee with Lahontan.
“Basically, in order to get permission, because the Keys was an Upper Truckee River marsh and it was to be man-modified and couldn’t be restored, a fee was assessed,” Kemper said. “The purpose of the fund was to get money to mitigate other problems caused by the Keys. The fees have been collected since 1982.”
Kemper said the money was to be used on Tahoe Basin projects to reduce the amount of nutrients, specifically nitrogen and phosphorous, that entered the lake due to approximately 30 years of construction in the Tahoe Keys area. In 1993, when Lahontan tried to use some of the money on projects outside the Tahoe Keys, a lawsuit erupted from the association. It was later dropped, Brothers said, after the association decided it would be too costly to fight.
The battle with Lahontan over the funds remained relatively quiet until a few months ago when Lahontan announced it was ready to allocate the $2.2 million in the fund to a variety of water quality improvement projects. It was then, Brothers said, that he and the association again approached Lahontan with a project for Pope Marsh, which borders the Keys.
“We recommended they allocate money to the U.S. Forest Service and hold off on giving away the remaining money pending results,” Brothers said, adding that the association received a letter from the Forest Service expressing great interest.
The water in Pope Marsh has occasionally broken through a natural sand dam, sending thousands of pounds of sediment into Lake Tahoe. The Tahoe Keys association proposed to improve the area and construct an adjustable dam to regulate water flow.
On Thursday, the Lahontan board chose to use the remaining funds on three projects outside the Keys and one in the general vicinity. Losing the funds to projects outside the Keys is not the problem, said Brothers, it is the amount of money being spent on each that raises a lot of questions.
“All the projects have merit, there is just a high degree of lopsidedness,” Brothers said. “While I am sure all will serve some benefits, some are just more costly than they should be.”
The projects are Angora Creek, Pioneer Trail, Trout Creek and the Upper Truckee Wetlands. Cost for each project is $100,000, $175,000, $812,300, and $669,000, respectively. The remaining mitigation funds were then allocated to the same four projects, which irked many at the Tahoe City meeting.
“We were astounded,” Brothers said. “I claimed in our meetings and I claim now that this type of allocation is not good stewardship of public money.”
Brothers also pointed out that the projects won’t be reducing the amount of nutrients in the lake by very much. In fact, a study done by Lahontan stated that the Pioneer Trail project will keep 500 kilograms of nitrogen and phosphorous from reaching the lake, while the Upper Truckee River project (formerly titled Cove East) will reduce the load by 15 kg. The Upper Truckee Wetlands improvement will restore five acres of landfill to marsh.
That breaks down to $44,600 a year for every one kilogram removed, said Brothers.
While the Lahontan board approved the allocation to the specific projects, the official green light must come from the California Resources Agency. As Kemper stated, when the CRPA disbanded, the CRA became the authorizing representative and must also give its approval before any money is spent. That decision is still a week or so away.
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