New count shows 387 trees cut
A new survey of the city’s clear-cut on the north end of Lake Tahoe Airport shows the number of down trees is nearly double original estimates.
Forestry staff at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency have marked 154 fresh-cut trees larger than 10 inches in diameter. Their survey showed a total 387 trees were cut on the site, 233 of them between 6 to 9 inches.
The agency originally estimated around 200 trees were cut down, 86 of which were larger than 10 inches.
TRPA alleges the city violated the conditions of a permit issued by the California Department of Forestry limiting the cut to 100 trees under 10 inches in diameter. The city says it did the work to comply with FAA safety requirements.
“The trees I did take were only taken to follow the permit and strong direction from (Caltrans Division of Aeronautics) and FAA to preserve this airport,” said Airport Manager Smokey Rickerd on Tuesday.
He said he has been directed not to comment further.
CDF’s agreement with TRPA stipulates it must mark trees, and the permit Rickerd signed stipulates only trees that are marked with paint may be cut. There are no apparent markings on the cut trees. City officials and CDF have remained mum on that issue.
Caltrans notified the airport last week that it would suspend night operations by Friday because there are still trees obstructing safe visibility.
TRPA officials contend the safety concerns could have been addressed in a more responsible way. Several trees that served as anchors to the banks of the North Upper Truckee River were cut down.
Agency executive director John Singlaub said last week if there are more trees that need to be cut for safety reasons, the city can call the agency and they will mark the trees and allow them to be cut.
“That’s great,” Rickerd said. “I’m glad to hear that they are willing to work with us on further issues regarding tree removal.”
For now, the TRPA is pursuing the case like any other alleged violation that comes before them, said the agency’s lead lawyer Joanne Marchetta.
TRPA is charged with protecting environmental standards at Tahoe and has prosecuted several illegal tree removal cases in the past year. Those cases were settled out of court for between $5,000 and $17,000 per tree.
“We do have a track record of $5,000 per tree,” Marchetta said. She indicated that because it is a high-profile case, the agency will work closely with its Governing Board.
TRPA spokeswoman Julie Regan said last week when the estimate stood at 200 trees that the clear cut appeared to be the largest non-accidental violation on record of environmental laws at Tahoe.