Tree trimming case moves to federal court |

Tree trimming case moves to federal court

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Lawyers at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency have filed a lawsuit at U.S. District Court in Reno seeking damages from two South Shore property owners for illegally trimming and topping trees.

The fine levied against the property owners can be up to $5,000 per day per violation, said Jordan Kahn, assistant agency council.

“The harm to forest health and scenic quality continue every day since the limbs and tops were severed,” Kahn said. “It’s up to a judge to assess the penalty.”

TRPA staff discovered the violations after a resident alerted officials about illegal tree work. Limbs had been cut to create windows in three trees at the Zephyr Cove property of Melvin Laub, a prominent attorney.

The TRPA also found two trees topped and seven others limbed to create windows on the property of Laub’s neighbor, Paul Porch. Four of the limbed trees stand on property owned by the Nevada State Division of Lands, which nestles up to Porch’s property.

The tree work, which the TRPA says enhances the owners’ views of Lake Tahoe, was done by Joe Benigno in fall 2000 and spring 2001.

Benigno admitted his work was illegal and already reached a settlement with the TRPA. He promised to pay a $12,000 fine if he fails to complete 40 hours of free forestry work.

The TRPA Governing Board said Laub could compensate for the violation by paying a $6,000 fine. Laub said he rejected the offer partly because the Governing Board ignored an agreement he made with TRPA staff. It allowed a $3,000 fine and did not require him to admit to the violations.

“They have been arbitrary and capricious in their evaluation and that’s very disturbing,” Laub said. “It’s irresponsible for someone to make an offer they can’t keep. You should have board approval before you make an offer.”

Laub also has argued the TRPA’s tree-trimming laws were not adequately publicized. He said Friday he would not make a comment regarding the lawsuit until he was served with the complaint.

Porch, who rejected an $11,000 settlement fine, could not be reached for comment.

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