Search continues for local funding to restore Lake Tahoe |

Search continues for local funding to restore Lake Tahoe

B.H. Bose

There are federal and state bills in legislation, or soon to be introduced, that will most likely bring millions of dollars to the Tahoe Basin for environmental projects. While legislators are confident they will fulfill their Presidential Forum commitments, funding sources for the local government’s portion remain, literally, in question.

“Basically, we have to ask the question, ‘Is there a way that we can legally, politically, and fiscally raise the $200 million over the next 10 years?'” asked Pam Drum, spokeswoman with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. “The answer could be ‘no, we can’t do it.’ But, hopefully, we will put together a package that the community at large could support.”

Established long before last summer’s Presidential Forum, but accelerated by Clinton’s historic visit, the Environmental Improvement Program is a comprehensive list of current and future projects that are aimed at “accomplishing, maintaining or exceeding multiple environmental goals through an integrative, proactive approach.” The EIP became the focus of the Forum, and all the money that was pledged from each governmental agency’s 10-year commitment will go toward its completion. The project list is amended regularly as some projects are completed and other pertinent ones evolve. The projects deal with TRPA environmental thresholds: water quality; soil conservation; air quality; vegetation; fisheries; wildlife; scenic resources/community design; recreation; and noise.

The price tag to complete the program over the next 10 years is estimated at approximately $908 million. The estimated cost for the projects was divided up – based on the total amount of land ownership/management in the Tahoe Basin – between the federal government, California, Nevada, local government agencies and the private sector. The federal government plans to pay the bulk of its nearly $300 million through a bill that will grant Tahoe “special designation” status. It is planned to be introduced later in the year. California is expected to provide $275 million over the next 10 years, of which $103 million could come from Gov. Pete Wilson’s Tahoe Initiative, which is currently moving through legislation. Nevada legislators have already passed a bill authorizing $20 million to the restoration of Lake Tahoe, and is in the midst of drafting another bill that will provide $56.4 million over the next 10 years. The Silver State has agreed to provide $82 million.

Despite the fact that both states and the federal government are making progress in their attempts to provide funding for the EIP, local governmental funding sources remain in murky water. The California Department of Transportation and a variety of area county and city agencies and environmental groups have funded a $100,000 study that will be conducted by a hired consultant to determine realistic revenue sources. Caltrans paid for 80 percent of that study.

“This will provide us, and others, with the options to raise money to accomplish the EIP,” said David Antonucci, general manager of the Tahoe City Public Utility District, which contributed $1,000 to the revenue source study. “The main concern is that the burden of funding is evenly spread out (and doesn’t just fall on the taxpayers’ shoulders). Everyone has a certain obligation and I feel the study will show ways that a fair share of costs could be spread out.”

With the results of the consultant study due some time in the near future, officials with the League to Save Lake Tahoe will wait to see the options before supporting anything.

“We are waiting to see what the consultant produces, but we are eager to see the EIP implemented,” said Rochelle Nason, executive director with the League, which chipped in $1,000. “We will keep an open mind and wait to see the facts and figures. It will be difficult to do (finding a reliable revenue source), but there is a lot of support.”

The local government commitment is approximately $101 million. However, Drum said, the TRPA and other agencies are looking for much more than that because the total cost will double just to keep the projects operational. Thus, local sources will have to find about $200 million.

“Half of the funding includes needs that are not identified in the EIP, such as ongoing operational and maintenance costs. The construction of sediment basins to catch the sediment before it enters the lake, for example, have to be vacuumed out or they cease to function,” she said.

Some possibilities, which have been mentioned in the past, are: a gasoline tax; sales tax; parking fees; basin-entry fees; property taxes; and state pollution vehicle registration fees.

“What the chamber is hoping to get out of it is a recognition and understanding that there is an economic threshold, just like there is an environmental threshold,” said Duane Wallace, executive director of the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, which also contributed $1,000. “We agreed to participate in this study not only for our concern for the environment, but for the economy also. How are we going to raise $200 million out of 40,000 people without having huge effects on the market forces?”

Despite the fact that the revenue source or sources are still unknown, Drum wants it known that finding revenue sources at the local level is more difficult than at others, and that somehow the funding will be found.

“It is more complicated, because we are not just talking about moving one bill through a system. We have to move through multiple jurisdictions and, on top of that, some (sources) may require action on the state level,” she said. “This is just phase one. We are just doing a preliminary report to see if it is feasible. If we can say yes to any of the options, we will switch to a more detailed analysis of the options and impacts. We also need to see how the community reacts, because it drives the process.”

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