People to be heard at special meeting on the Trout Creek project |

People to be heard at special meeting on the Trout Creek project

The South Lake Tahoe City Council Tuesday will hold a special meeting with residents of Ormsby Drive to discuss potential alternatives to the Trout Creek Restoration Project.

Residents on Ormsby Drive are outraged at the city for relocating Trout Creek, which now runs within view of their backyards, and will be moved behind shrubs and bushes, placing it out of sight.

Concerns range from loss of property value and esthetics to mosquito problems.

“Our primary issue is to keep our stream,”said Cathy Gonsalves, an Ormsby Drive resident.

The project, however, is on city property, and the residents are just outside the border, in El Dorado County.

Approval for the final phase of the project was postponed June 19 due to residents complaints. But the City Council must decide whether to proceed with the project at the meeting or face postponing the project another year, said Mayor Hal Cole.

The project is scheduled for completion this fall.

The project is designed to create a wetland, which would catch sediment, protecting Lake Tahoe’s clarity and increasing natural wildlife.

A new set of alternatives were presented June 29 to the residents, who are fragmented on what alternatives are acceptable.

“We had all these years to work on it, and they want us to do it in a weekend,” Gonsalves said.

The alternatives range from providing some water flow in front of the residents’ houses to removing three of the 18 habitat ponds near their homes, which they fear could cause mosquito problems.

Changes in the project at this point could affect permitting and funding sources as well as environmental impacts.

Pat Dinapoli, an Ormsby Drive Resident, said the responses concerning the alternatives from city staff and Haen Engineering are no different than before.

“How do you respond to the same stuff you responded to months ago,” she said

Councilmember Judy Brown said she needs to clarify some of the science behind the project.

“We were told a lot of the water quality benefits happen higher up than Ormsby drive,” she said. “I want to find out how much impact the Ormsby Drive section has on the project.”

The bid for Phase 3 of the project, which came in at $677,000, was $120,000 less than budgeted, offering a contingency for alternatives, if no unforeseen costs arise. But the alternatives that provide water flow in front of residents’ homes would cost significantly more than the contingency allows.

At this point, none of the agencies are promising the availability of more funding.

“We don’t envision any more funds being available for that project unless Congress wants to appropriate money again,” said Bob Shaffer, regional wetlands coordinator for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamations. The Bureau is supplying the bulk of the project funding with $1.3 million.

Shaffer, however, said the Bureau would be following the lead of the California Tahoe Conservancy and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, because of the agencies’ familiarity with the region and the project.

Rick Robinson, wildlife program coordinator for the Conservancy, said it is unlikely any more funding will be available for the project unless there are proven environmental benefits.

According to a report prepared for the city by Matt Kesey, of River Run Consulting, none of the alternatives have a significant positive environmental impact.

“This project design started in 1995. When you get to final designs it becomes very difficult to make changes,” Robinson said.

Mary Fiore-Wagner, environmental specialist for the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, said the agency feels comfortable that removing three of the habitat ponds would fit into the parameters of the existing permit, but the other options which are costly and provide water flow in front of their homes would need more detailed environmental review before any decision regarding permits could be made.

Councilman Bill Crawford is not convinced on the science of the project, which he finds inconclusive regarding environmental benefits.

“My major concern is: are we, by intruding one more time, doing the environment any good in the long run,” he said.

The creek is being rerouted as part of an Environmental Improvement Project, resulting from the 1997 presidential mandate that called for $9.7 million in environmental improvements at Lake Tahoe.

The Trout Creek Project, which began in 1999, is intended to restore the creek to its original path, 300 feet away from its current location. The $3.5 million project covers 10,000 linear feet.

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