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Lost dollars add up from storms

Amanda Fehd

New Year’s storms that dumped the equivalent of two million swimming pools full of water into Lake Tahoe also wreaked havoc on the wallets of property owners, businesses and public utilities in South Shore.

Strong winds brought down hundreds of trees, which fell on power lines, roofs, cars and ski lifts.

Sierra Pacific Power Co. estimated it had spent about $250,000 so far in repairs in the Lake Tahoe Basin, with significantly more to come. The utility must rebuild a portion of a 120,000-volt power line from a substation in Carson City to Incline Village.

While South Shore was pummeled by similarly large winter storms this time last year, many felt it was the torrential rain that made the difference in destruction this year.

“One of the problems is the ground gets saturated, and the trees are more likely to fall over followed by a stiff wind,” said power company spokesman Karl Walquist. Two hundred to 300 households were reportedly still without power Tuesday in South Shore.

Diseased trees

Joe Benigno with Benigno’s Tree Service said his phone has been ringing off the hook since New Year’s Eve. He’s removed more than 60 fallen trees since then, causing more than $15,000 in damage each to roofs or cars, Benigno estimated.

He said property owners should request a hazardous tree assessment from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to prevent this type of damage in the future.

“A good percentage of trees we’ve seen down are trees that were dead or rotten, had co-dominant (split) stems, or had failing root systems due to construction in the area or age,” said Benigno, who is a certified arborist.

“Most of the trees that had failed, if they had had an inspection, they would have been removed.”

Bill Hamilton of Meyers was spending his Tuesday videotaping 10-inch wide branches that fell off a large Jeffrey pine in his neighbor’s lot onto his house, damaging his eaves and cracking a window. He plans to send the tape to his insurance company so they can send the owner of the lot the bill, he said.

“It was like the trees were throwing things all night long,” said Hamilton, a 20-year resident here.

Insurance companies will not know the full cost of property damages from this storm for a while, said Tully Lehman with Insurance Information Network, which compiles data for the industry.

Restaurants closed

Chart House on Kingsbury Grade lost an estimated $25,000 in revenue after a power outage forced it to close New Year’s Eve. The restaurant lost an expected 600 diners on its busiest night of the year.

“We might be looking into the possibility of a generator in the future,” said Chart House manager Paul Brockschmidt.

Beacon Bar and Grill on the other side of town was also closed New Year’s Eve. It went without power for more than 24 hours, said spokeswoman Missy Springer.

“It was bad timing,” she said. “It’s Mother Nature at her worst. But thank God we don’t live in New Orleans.”

Chevy’s Tex Mex Restaurant on Highway 50 closed New Year’s Eve after three inches of water flooded its floors, according to manager Tina Rodriguez. It was back into shape for New Year’s day after a whirlwind cleaning crew came in overnight.

While Riva Grill on the Lake in South Shore was open and busy New Year’s, owner Tom Turner said he lost $100,000 when his other restaurant, Garwoods in Tahoe City, was forced to close New Year’s Eve and day because of power outages.

He ordered a $40,000 generator Tuesday.

The power outages’ impact to Tahoe City could be in the millions, Turner said.

Lake rises

Lake Tahoe rose almost one foot from last Thursday through Tuesday, which amounts to about 37.9 billion gallons of water, according to the Gary Barbato, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Reno. In the flood of 1997, the lake rose 1.4 feet in 24 hours.

This year, the lake was lower than average for December, which prevented more flooding down the Truckee River, he said.

“It was very fortunate Tahoe was so low,” Barbato said. “It acted as a huge flood control reservoir.”

South Tahoe Public Utility District reported no spills or service outages, but still experienced a hectic weekend, said spokesman Dennis Cocking. The district’s only cost will be in paying some overtime hours.

“There was a lot of activity with our pump crew dealing with stations that were without power,” Cocking said. “We lose some of the high-tech capability when the power goes out.”


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