Trout Creek represents hard-fought battle on both sides
About 15 Ormsby Drive residents showed up in force at South Lake Tahoe City Council Tuesday night to prevent the city from awarding a contract for the final phase of the Trout Creek Restoration Project, and stop the project from continuing.
The highly contentious meeting, which lasted more than four hours, did not result in a decision as of press time.
“Please stop the project until we can find a solution we can all be happy with,” said Ormsby Drive resident Cathy Gonsalves.
The Trout Creek project, which began in 1999, is intended to restore the creek to its original path and create a wetland, protecting the lake’s clarity and increasing natural wildlife. The $3.5 million project is scheduled for completion this fall.
Residents are outraged the creek will be relocated 300 yards away, behind bushes and shrubs and out of sight.
Although residents live just outside the city in El Dorado County, they hope the city, which is the lead agency on the project, can offer alternatives that would allow for some water flow within view of their property.
Many said they chose their property because of the creek.
“When the time came to move we asked our Realtor to find us a place on the creek,” said Suzanne Giguere.
She also said it was listed as the No. 1 amenity on her bank mortgage and that she has enjoyed watching coyotes, beavers, birds and other wildlife.
“We would like to have some semblance of the paradise that caused us to move there in the first place,” she said.
Residents are upset because they say they were promised alternatives that would provide some water flow in front of their houses. But Haen Construction, which is constructing this phase of the project along with its scientific team, determined those alternatives would compromise the project.
When Pat Dinapoli was asked by Councilman Bill Crawford how she felt she was dealt with by the city, she responded: “I would never believe another word they said. What I could say off camera and off the record would probably turn your face red.”
Gonsalves said she and the residents were not dealt with in a timely manner and now the city and Haen Engineering is telling them it is too late to do anything.
“We have been accused of acting too late on this matter, but we feel we were deliberately dealt with too late,” Gonsalves said.
She blamed money as the reason for the expediency of the project and a disregard of the residents’ requests to find alternatives.
“I’m sure this project was pushed by people in Sacramento saying, ‘We have to use these grant funds or we will lose them,'” Gonsalves said.
The creek is being rerouted as part of an Environmental Improvement Project, resulting from the 1997 presidential mandate that called for $907 million in environmental improvements at Lake Tahoe. The creek was rerouted over 100 years ago.
“It appears your holding the city and the people in this neighborhood hostage to your purse strings,” Crawford said to Rick Robinson, a representative of the California Tahoe Conservancy, which has been a major funding source for the project.
The residents’ primary concerns, aside from loss of the creek view, are decreased property values and mosquitoes due to still water.
“This is stagnant still water that will draw insects,” said Stephen Gonsalves.
But Jim Haen said the creek in front of the residents’ houses will be revegitated and filled in, so there will be no still water next to the residents. But there will be a total of 18 pools of water, or wildlife habitats for mosquitoes, dragonflies and other bugs. The closest will be 300 feet away.
But residents question the accuracy of the science involved and suggest the creek could be rerouted 1,000 feet down the slope, which would allow them to keep their view of the creek and, in their opinion, not have a significant impact on the goals of the project.
Residents were outraged that Haen could not determine the exact environmental impact of the project. However, Haen did say the project would have a definite effect on lake clarity.
Tamara Williams said she found it very hard to believe rerouting the section of Trout Creek in front of Ormsby Drive has a more significant effect on the lake clarity than the Tahoe Keys. She urged the city to concentrate on the Tahoe Keys.
Stephen Gonsalves, who made presentation with easel-sized photographs, argued the Truckee Meadow, farther down, allows sediment to be captured before it gets to the lake.
But a scientist for Haen construction, Matt Kesey, said the rerouting of the creek as planned would increase flooding in the nearby meadow and decrease the amount of sediment that would get to the lake.
“We want to restore the ecological process and function of the creek,” Kesey said.
Haen also expressed a concern with keeping the creek away from the sewer line and the new location of the creek would do just that.
“The farther away from the sewer line the better,” he said.
In other city action the council was set to consider approving the Tahoe Keys Master Plan. No decision was reached as of press time
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