Money approved for Tahoe |

Money approved for Tahoe

Susan Wood

A joint U.S. Senate-House conference committee on Wednesday approved spending $17.8 million for Lake Tahoe environmental projects.

The money is part of the Interior Department’s appropriations bill, which could be approved by Congress as early as today and sent to President Bush for his signature. The sum is significantly less than the $30 million a year originally proposed under the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act authored by U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Harry Reid.

But given the shrinking budget surplus and the economic upheaval following the Sept. 11 attacks, environmental officials and Nevada lawmakers were still pleased with the outcome.

Rochelle Nason, League to Save Lake Tahoe executive director, and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Executive Director Juan Palma returned Thursday from Washington, D.C., after making their pitch to Congress.

“With all these national world issues, it was critical timing with the conference going on (for us to go). We could not let them forget about Tahoe, and I think we did well,” Palma said.

The funding comes as part of an ongoing partnership between federal, state and local agencies through the 10-year Restoration Act passed last year. The measure, which commits $300 million over a decade, pays for one-third of the projects outlined in the TRPA’s $908 million Environmental Improvement Program.

Agencies with a stake in the EIP may submit their suggestions to the TRPA in the coming weeks.

Projects that specialize in erosion control and environmentally sensitive land acquisitions are listed as the top priorities to the League.

“The reason (erosion control) is high up there is because our best science tells us, if we can control erosion, we can stem the tide of lower (lake) clarity,” Nason said.

The appropriations come on the heels of an environmental summit in August that brought out lawmakers and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Christie Todd Whitman to the lake.

“We’re satisfied with the funding. It’s more than last year,” Reid said. “The lake is a natural gem, and this funding will help ensure that its pristine beauty will be preserved so that our children and our grandchildren can enjoy it.”

In other action, House and Senate negotiators also agreed to $4 million in new spending for natural resource projects in Nevada, including $600,000 to restore Lahontan cutthroat trout in the Truckee and Walker rivers of northern Nevada.

The Lahontan cutthroat trout is unique to Nevada, Reid said, and restoring its population will increase recreational opportunities for residents and visitors.

”The funding for this project will not only protect the future of the trout, but help boost the local economies as well,” Reid said.

The biggest chunk for Nevada, $2 million, goes toward design and construction of the California Trail Interpretive Center in Elko. Another $500,000 is directed to the Great Basin National Park Visitor’s Learning Center southeast of Ely.

Lake Tahoe funding

The funding package passed Wednesday by a congressional committee includes $3.5 million to combat erosion and $6.6 million to purchase environmentally sensitive lands. Other allocations include:

— $500,000 for MTBE study for South Lake Tahoe

— $2 million for hazardous fuels reduction

— $3 million for road improvement

— $455,000 for improvements at the Eagle Falls trailhead

— $450,000 for urban lots management

— $250,000 for wetlands restoration

— $115,000 for Tallac Historical Site upgrades

— $400,000 for environmental studies

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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