Guest column: Defining the ‘top priority’ at the TRPA
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency resolutions, which I proposed and were adopted by the TRPA board over the past three or four years to make catastrophic wildfires the agency’s top priority, have not been fulfilled.
Initially, in May of this year, the U.S. Forest Service filed for a TRPA permit to begin a long-awaited project to remove the forest fuels and thin the trees in Slaughterhouse Canyon/Glenbrook on the East Shore of the Tahoe Basin. The project, which included a joint removal operation by the Nevada State Lands and the Forest Service to remove one of the most extensive and dangerous build-ups of forest fuels in the Basin, was spearheaded and supported by two Nevada governors over an eight-year period. However, almost as soon as the application was filed, it was hit by a series of negative proposed alternatives by the TRPA, which if adopted would have either killed or seriously delayed this important project.
Thanks to the tenacity of the Forest Service and the Nevada State Lands, each of the proposed alternatives were successfully challenged, but it took over two weeks of valuable time and effort by all concerned.
Several of the proposed alternatives were just plain ridiculous. Finally, at the 11th hour, and, also, after the onset of the Angora Fire, the TRPA issued and executive order to tentatively approve the project with final confirmation to be considered at the July meeting of the TRPA board.
The whole process demonstrated to me and other that the TRPA’s permitting process for projects to remove forest fuels and tree thinning was in bad need of repair and was not all in line with the intent of the top-priority resolutions of TRPA.
As Dr. Woodward of the Nevada Fire Safe Council stated, “The forest fuels in the Tahoe Basin will be removed. It is just a matter of who will do it – us or catastrophic wildfires.”
Secondly, the tragic occurrence of the Angora Fire revealed that the TRPA needs to seriously review its regulations, along with other regulatory bodies such as the Lahontan Water Quality Control Board, to streamline and weed-out obsolete and cumbersome regulations, which now make removal of forest fuels and tree thinning difficult and not cost effective.
Lastly, all the regulatory agencies in the Basin should review and simplify their procedures and regulations and make the permitting public fully aware of what is required of them to comply with the procedure and regulations.
I believe those who have the authority to formulate and enforce regulations to avoid catastrophic fires also have a responsibility to disseminate in simple and understandable language how the public and other agencies can comply with those regulations and enforcement procedures.
In conclusion, I believe when it comes to avoiding catastrophic wildfires at Lake Tahoe, the TRPA has a ways to go. Hopefully, the devastating Angora Fire will compel the TRPA to put full meaning behind the words “top-priority” when dealing in the future with matters of avoid catastrophic wildfires.
– Coe Swobe is a Reno resident and a member of the governing board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.