Utility in trouble for chopping trees | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Utility in trouble for chopping trees

by Andy Bourelle

A North Shore government agency may be in big trouble with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency for allegedly chopping down old-growth trees without permission.

TRPA is investigating the possibility that contractors for the Tahoe City Public Utility District cut down trees larger than 30 inches in diameter, violating conditions of a permit to restore 110 acres of land owned by the utility.

Steve Chilton, chief of TRPA’s environmental compliance division, said the bistate regulatory agency plans to determine by next week what repercussions may be involved.

“At this point, we’re trying to determine how many trees more than 30 inches in diameter were taken out of the project,” Chilton said. “Then we’ll determine at that point what sort of settlement we’ll be seeking.”

The tree removal happened in April.

“On the permit, as a special condition of approval, each tree over 30 inches that was to be cut down needed to be approved by TRPA – and they weren’t,” Chilton said.

“At first look, (the violation) appears to be significant,” he added. “We’re looking at it very seriously.”

The district contracted the job to a Grass Valley-based timber land management operation called Menasha Corp.

“Tahoe City Public Utility District has a pretty good track record with TRPA in doing environmental projects,” said Cindy Gustafson, director of project and resource development at the utility district. “This is something we’re going to make right. Between Menasha and ourselves, we’ll sort things out. We want to make sure we take care of the environment here at the lake.”

TCPUD provides sewer and water service to customers from Dollar Hill to Emerald Bay. It also acts as the parks and recreation department for that area, providing bike paths and hiking trails for area residents and visitors. The 110-acre project area, with the exception of hiking trails, is undisturbed forest and is open to the public.

The land borders Homewood Mountain Resort. Menasha was completing tree-removal work on the adjacent Homewood property, Gustafson said, and approached TCPUD about completing work on its land, too.

In order to reduce the wildfire hazard in the area by removing dead trees, TCPUD and Menasha created a timber harvest plan for the area. The utility had no intention of making a profit from the project, Gustafson said.

“This is not really a dispute between us and TRPA. It’s more of a clearing up the issue between Menasha and TRPA,” she said.

Mark Salyer, California administrative manager for Menasha, said his corporation is cooperating with TRPA to determine what, if any, violations occurred.

“As (project) managers for TCPUD, we take that responsibility seriously. We’re assisting TRPA, trying to get to the bottom of things,” he said.

Menasha subcontracted the work to a logging operation. However, the corporation will take the blame if there was a violation, Salyer said.

“If something went wrong – and I’m not saying it did – we’ll take responsibility for it,” said Mark Salyer, California administrative manager for Menasha. “We’re not going to say, ‘It’s not our fault; we don’t own a chain saw.'”

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