Tree-cutting: What’s the story behind the story?
The removal of 200-plus trees at the north end of the runway at Lake Tahoe Airport may make it a safer place to land an airplane. It may save lives, or provide our community with a more viable transportation alternative by attracting pilots who would otherwise be reticent to land there.
But removing trees in the Lake Tahoe Basin has to be done with care, and it appears a bad decision was made to cut down more trees than was permitted by the California Department of Forestry in accordance with Tahoe Regional Planning Agency rules. And the tree-cutting reportedly continued despite a stop-work order from the agency.
The City of South Lake Tahoe may argue that the California Department of Transportation “directive” that trees be removed adjacent to the runway trumps authority by the TRPA to restrict their removal, but that conflict should have been resolved prior to the tree removal. If the city is found to be in violation of TRPA rules, it will have no one to blame for the fines and restoration costs that will come as a result – potentially in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Any property owner, contractor or public agency that operates in the basin knows better than to assume TRPA rules don’t apply to them. Time and time again, the agency’s authority regarding land-use has been upheld in courts of law, and demonstrated by fines on top of fines handed out for violations of TRPA mandates.
The tree-cutting case also has a time element that cannot be ignored.
The city, in seeking a permit and then ultimately ordering the trees removed, was ostensibly attempting to comply with a June 1 deadline. If not met, the state department of transportation would have put into place restrictions on night operations – currently, night operations are limited to those that produce less than 77 decibels of noise.
The tree-cutting happened just in time. In fact, the trees were cut down on May 28, the Sunday before Memorial Day.
So the timing begs some questions: Was a decision made to remove these trees, regardless of the potential fines and environmental consequences? Did the removal proceed because it creates a net benefit by keeping the airport open at night? Perhaps it does in some person’s or some people’s minds. But the city operates on behalf of its residents, and the tree-cutting was not in the residents’ best interest – somebody, or some people, will have to answer for that.