Valdez cleanup veteran now a fighter for the lake |

Valdez cleanup veteran now a fighter for the lake

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

She was an Exxon representative after a tanker hit a rock and spilled 11 million gallons of oil at Valdez, Alaska.

She acted as a coalition-builder after a damn broke and sent more than 80 million gallons of oil onto tundra and marshland 600 miles north of Moscow.

Now Lynda Hyce is at Lake Tahoe helping to coordinate its preservation as chief of Environmental Improvement Division at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

“In Alaska, we had a common enemy, big oil,” Hyce said. “Here, there’s no bad guy. Everyone wants the same thing.”

Hyce, 59, was hired in February to “expedite and facilitate” erosion control and water quality projects designed to stop the clouding of Tahoe’s clear water.

As chief of the environmental improvement, another of Hyce’s jobs is to squeeze cash from the U.S. Congress. Last week, she was in Washington, accompanied by other officials who represent the basin, lobbying for support.

“When it gets down to dollars, their attitude was not completely optimistic,” she said. “Homeland security is pretty hard to argue against.”

Money for the Environmental Improvement Program, a basin-wide initiative adopted by TRPA in 1998, is not collected in one pot. It will be gathered over 10 years from federal, state and local governments.

Experts estimated the cost of needed environmental work to be $908 million. That number has since grown to $1.4 billion. The budget for U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit is one channel for EIP funds. This year, its budget jumped from $10 million to $25 million.

EIP money comes at from various agencies at various times, so it’s her job, she said, to get ” the stars aligned” so projects can get finished.

“I think she brings that skill set,” said Carl Hasty, deputy director at the TRPA. “The TRPA doesn’t build these projects but we have a unique role making sure they get off the ground.”

After Hyce finished work for Exxon in 1989, she helped form the State of Alaska’s Local Response Program for the oil spill.

“It was quite an environmental project the likes of which I hope we never see again,” she said. “There were scary times. Commercial fishermen who were devastated. Some pretty rowdy town meetings.”

Of the 23 fish and wildlife species affected by the spill, three have recovered, Hyce said.

She left that job in 1992 and worked for three years as a water quality specialist on the Snake River in Idaho and did some work on the Florida Everglades.

She then went back to Alaska to work as deputy director for the Prince William Sound Citizens’ Advisory Council. It is a coalition mandated by Congress to help express the needs of groups affected by the Valdez oil spill.

In 2002, she’s at the TRPA — busy attending meetings and learning the needs of the basin. She said it feels good to be back in the Lower 48 with easy access to visit her grandson at Sacramento and her mother at Twin Falls, Idaho.

“Most noticeable is the access to the rest of the world,” she said. “Even going to Washington for two days seemed easy.”

Hyce plans to retire at Tahoe. Why? “Four seasons, mountains, its centrally located and … beautiful.”

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or

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