TRPA and corporation ‘far apart’ from tree-cutting settlement
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency plans to take steps early next year to either settle a dispute with a corporation accused of illegally chopping down 49 old-growth trees or to move forward with a lawsuit against the timber company.
TRPA filed the lawsuit in October against Menasha Corp., which has extensive timber harvesting operations in the West, after the corporation would not sign a waiver to TRPA’s legal statute of limitations. Negotiations have been happening since early this year when the alleged violations were discovered on West Shore.
“In terms of settling this, we’re very far apart,” said Mark Salyer, California administrative manager for Menasha. “But at the board hearing, we’re going to present our case. Hopefully, reasonable minds can reach a compromise at that time. If not, we’ll go ahead and defend ourselves in federal court in Sacramento.”
TRPA officials also agree there is a long way to go if a settlement is possible.
“We’re fairly far apart in our respective views of the case,” said John Marshall, TRPA legal counsel. “That doesn’t mean we won’t try (to negotiate again.”
At a meeting this week, Marshall will be recommending TRPA adopt a three-month plan that will help expedite a resolution. In January, he wants Jerome Waldie, the chair of TRPA’s legal committee, to preside over a hearing on the issue. Waldie then would make a recommendation to the legal committee at a February meeting. The agency’s 14 voting governing board members would hear the issue in March. If a civil penalty were assessed at that time and Menasha refused to pay it, the agency would continue with the litigation.
If the board found no violations occurred, the lawsuit would be dismissed.
The trees were removed during an over-the-snow operation in April from 110 acres of land owned by the Tahoe City Public Utility District. The district, which acts as the parks and recreation department for the area in addition to providing sewer and water, hired Menasha to thin the forest in order to reduce wildfire hazard on the property, which borders Homewood Mountain Resort.
Trees of 30 or more inches in diameter are protected under TRPA’s old-growth ordinance and permission from the agency is needed to cut them down. TRPA claims Menasha did not have permission to remove 49 of the trees, which would each likely be more than 100 years old. Menasha maintains it had an OK from the agency.
The League to Save Lake Tahoe has followed the issue since the beginning and supports TRPA’s enforcement efforts.
“I hope TRPA has the fortitude to stand up to blatant violations like this. If the board doesn’t, I think it would send the wrong message to timber companies in the Tahoe Basin,” said Dave Roberts, assistant executive director of the League. “I hope this sort of sets a precedent for timber harvesting in the Tahoe Basin.”
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