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Lake Tahoe loses out on money

About $21 million earmarked for land purchases and projects to protect Lake Tahoe is back in the hands of the chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

Chief Dale Bosworth ordered use of the money be postponed in case it’s needed to pay this summer’s mounting forest firefighting bills, which burned 6.5 million acres across the nation.

The move has delayed about 20 Environmental Improvement Program projects, an initiative to save lake clarity. The projects include buying and retiring environmentally sensitive land, drainage projects, trail work and bridge construction.



Early estimates indicate the fire bill might reach $1.4 billion. The Forest Service has already spent $325 million it had banked to cover the cost of the fire season. That amount of money was determined by averaging fire suppression costs over the last 10 seasons.

Congress is still debating how it will deal with the fire costs, but Bosworth has said the Forest Service must assume it will have to pay the bill.




“I think every national forest is trying to get through,” said Ed Gee, deputy forest supervisor at Lake Tahoe Basin. “I don’t think we’re any different, although we have very unique water quality issues. But most important is to help out with the fires on a national level. We have been requested to do our fair share.”

Vegetation and watershed management projects, road improvement, and maintenance projects were most affected. Many projects, in particular erosion control projects involving counties that are relying on Forest Service funds, went forward as planned.

“We understand what the Forest Service has had to do here,” said Carl Hasty, deputy director at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which regulates building at the basin and leads the Environmental Improvement Program.

“But Tahoe has become a very ripe target,” Hasty said. “We’re still kind of reacting to the news. Right now we’re being told the money will be returned, so we’re counting on that.

“This is a response to the fire issue in the country, but it plays into the Environmental Improvement Program support that can’t be jeopardized. It’s a partnership and if one partner is unable to fulfill their end, that becomes cause for concern.”

The Forest Service commitment to the environmental improvement at the basin is unwavering, Gee said, but fighting forest fires is also a top priority.

“By appearance it may seem like we’re not going to accomplish (these projects),” Gee said, “but we’re just postponing it to a new fiscal year. We took a look at everything and said, ‘Is this something we could postpone without great detriment to the environment?'”

The withholding of money has also slowed work on an analysis of what should be done with the old Dreyfus estate, now called Zephyr North by the Forest Service.

In June, the Forest Service gave a tour of the 81-acre site and accepted suggestions as to what could made out of the area. An initial environmental analysis of the land was expected this month, but now it is not expected for several months.

“The project is still on track, we’ve just shifted gear,” said Robert Becker, recreation planner at the Forest Service. “We lost a lot of money for the fire season. It’s costing them so much they are yanking funds from any available resource.”

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com


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