Bently keynote speaker at summit | RecordCourier.com

Bently keynote speaker at summit

by Jack Barnwell
jbarnwell@tahoedailytribune.com

Legislative and business leaders gathered at Zephyr Cove in Lake Tahoe to discuss the Lake's future on Monday.

Chris Bently, chief executive officer of Bently Enterprises, said his first sunburn happened on the beaches around Round Hill Pines Beach as a kid.

Partnerships are essential Lake Tahoe's continued success and protection, speakers at the 19th annual summit since President Clinton opened the first one in 1997.

Bently pointed to the public-private partnerships that have helped shape transportation at Tahoe, including $400 million in Douglas County. He said what the private industry can't offer is the needed public infrastructure, so partnerships are necessary.

"We have an opportunity to start new and rebuild in a proper manner in a way the world will recognize and continue to visit," Bently said.

One prime example, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., noted, was the Alert Tahoe program, a system of live surveillance cameras that keeps tabs on fires in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

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"This system is making a great difference," Heller said.

Wildfire

Wildfire presented a major concern for the speakers, including U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Carson City native Heller.

"Wildfires destroy thousands of acres and wastes resources," Heller said.

Feinstein agreed, noting the Lake Tahoe Basin remains a high priority to western states. Both senators noted politics played second fiddle to the dangers in the basin and that it was a western problem.

They also touted the Senate version of the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, a key piece of legislation that would earmark $415 million in funding during the next 10 years. This includes $150 million in fire-risk reduction and forest management.

California Gov. Jerry Brown noted fires in western states have changed throughout the decades — meaning fires have gotten bigger and more intense recently. The Rocky Fire in Lake County was a prime example.

"That means we need to fight fires smarter and take care of our forests," Brown said.

California Congressman Tom McClintock, whose district includes parts of California's side of Tahoe, additionally noted the damage current and past fires created locally.

McClintock said the Rim Fire wreaked havoc near Yosemite National Park and was 80 times larger than the 2007 Angora Fire. However, the latter had wide-ranging implications because it destroyed 254 homes and cost the region $1 billion in economic loss.

"If a fire much larger happened, it could decimate the lake and its surrounding region for generations to come," McClintock said.

For example, a catastrophic fire could create ash and sediment that would damage lake clarity for years and hinder conservation efforts made during the last 20 years.

Many speakers commended the actions of fire personnel and remarked on the loss of U.S. Forest Service firefighter Michael Hallenbeck, who died fighting the Sierra Fire near Sierra-at-Tahoe Aug. 8.

Environment

Environment and invasive species topics also took front seat at the 2015 Lake Tahoe Summit, including measures already implemented as well as future projects.

Nevada and California have already invested millions in preventative invasive-species measures. Both versions of the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act promise funding, though the Senate version holds the lion's share.

Feinstein used the quagga mussel as the primary example of the importance of Lake Tahoe's boat-inspection program. One female mussel can produce up to one million eggs per year, creating adverse environmental impacts on any water system.

Feinstein credited enduring partnerships across public and private sectors for Lake Tahoe's environmental protection and the success of the boat inspection program.

Hutchison, Nevada's lieutenant governor, said the state approved $350,000 in funding to help with preventing new species from invading the lake.

"It is vital to prevent new infestations that are constantly threatening the lake," Hutchison said.

Transportation

Transportation issues played an important role at the event as well, including the development of improved roadways and bicycle/pedestrian safety.

Carlos Monje, assistant secretary for Transportation Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation, noted that California and Nevada's populations are poised to explode. That fact means more cars on the road and more people coming to Tahoe.

Monje said programs that Tahoe Transportation District, Nevada and California are implementing will help manage that influx.

Those projects include bike paths on both the Nevada and California sides, as well as improved State Route 28 corridor plans.