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Pace quickens at Presidential Forum center

Patrick McCartney

Two weeks remain before President Clinton and Vice President Gore visit Lake Tahoe to host the Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum on the lake’s threatened environment.

With time running out, the pace of activity has quickened at the Presidential Forum Coordination Center in South Lake Tahoe, where a core group of a dozen federal employees has toiled since May 19 preparing for the presidential forum.

Days start as early as 6:30 a.m. with conference calls to the Washington coordinating center, and usually don’t end until 12 hours later.

Plucked from the agencies that are most active in the Tahoe Basin, the planners put in long hours preparing for the two community forums and two Cabinet-level workshops held so far. In the process, the center’s staff has formed close working relationships that have furthered the forum’s goal of interagency cooperation and forging private-public partnerships.

“We’re pretty close-knit here,” said Alan Friessen of the Federal Highway Administration. “They brought us up to speed pretty quickly, and we all learned a lot about each other in the process.”

Agencies represented at the coordination center include the Forest Service, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Land Management, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Jo Simpson, the BLM’s deputy state director for external affairs, said event planners have learned each other’s “departmental culture” by working together. Until the presidential forum is over, she has only been able to pay brief visits to the office in Reno where she has been transferred.

Like other staffers on loan to the center, Simpson has rented a condominium at Lake Tahoe until the forum is over. But she’s had little time to enjoy the Tahoe Basin, she said.

“We haven’t had the time for many activities,” Simpson said. “About 15 of us got together on the Fourth of July for a dinner at the Chart House. We were too tired to be rowdy; we were a very sedate group.”

The planners usually grab a quick bite to eat at one of the restaurants near the Kyburz Avenue office, or order sandwiches to go from Raley’s, she said. A few early risers in the office get up early to go hiking or mountain biking, but others have found little time to relax.

Linda Massey, a Forest Service public information officer with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, said she would like to see the planners get out more often.

“I’m trying to get a sailing trip together,” Massey said. “I have a vested interest in making some of the people get out and see the lake.”

Friessen is one of the few planners who has not had to relocate to Lake Tahoe, commuting to the coordination center since May from his home in Carson City. He is the local planner for the Department of Transportation’s workshop scheduled for July 19 in Reno, working with transportation officials in Washington, D.C.

“I anticipated that this would be a complex event,” Friessen said. “We have to keep moving forward even if events are unsettled. What’s impressed me is that we can more or less work together from one side of the country to the other.”

As the transportation workshop’s on-site planner, Friessen has had to find a suitable location (at the University of Nevada), determine the significant transportation issues in the basin and identify potential local partners in the area.

Along the way, the planners have been forced to remain flexible as the event evolves, Massey said

“We have so many meetings and conference calls, and things change so often, that what I remember from yesterday’s briefing may have changed three times since then,” Massey said. “What we’ve been practicing here is a microcosm of democracy. It takes time to sort out all the opinions as the structure of the event emerges.”


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