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Commission denies access

Michael Schneider

County commissioners, after hearing testimony from about 40 people, voted to deny a request by the Carson Valley Access Community to pay $34,250 for the acquisition of land for a public access trailhead leading up to the Faye-Luther canyon.

“This is an issue about funding,” said Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen, reminding his colleagues to focus on considering the financial aspects and not so much whether the trail is a good idea. “It’s not necessarily about whether we should do this or not.”

The money that would have been spent should the commission have voted the other way was a one-time shot as the land would have been acquired from a private buyer.

After the purchase, the U.S. Forest Service would have taken over maintenance of the trailhead and the parking lot that would have been constructed.

Citizens packed the commission chambers to speak during the public comment portion of the hearing.

Although Etchegoyhen asked for proponents of the trailhead to start off public comment, rancher Don Brooks spoke first against the county paying for a trailhead.

Brooks, who owns the Faye Canyon Ranch and has a pipeline running from the top of the canyon to his ranch, said the county has better things to do with the money than spend it on the trailhead. He also expressed concern for the natural integrity of the area as well as the harm that people could do to the area and pipeline.

“I have a pipeline that runs my ranch,” said Brooks. “If we get a bunch of people up there and they start plugging the pipe, then we’ll have no water.

“That pipe’s 130 years old and not that stable.”

The pipeline splits at the top of the canyon with half of the water going to Brooks and the other half going to Robert H. Brown’s Heritage Ranch.

“We rely on that water for the ranch and for fire protection,” said Brown.

Brown said he has a pond and, like Brooks, makes his water available to local fire departments. He also expressed concern for the aesthetics of the area.

“Have you looked from Woodfords to Genoa. That canyon is the only stretch with no fire from Woodfords to Genoa.

“If you put people in the area then it will be gone. That’s a beautiful thing and I’d like to keep it that way. It’s a very fragile habitat and there’s erosion like you can’t believe.”

Lorilyn Chitwood addressed the commission in favor of the trailhead. She said she is disheartened by ranchers who have sold off their lands completely cutting off the public lands.

“If we don’t do this now, it will cost more money in the future,” said Chitwood. “We have 410 signatures in support of this.”

Attorney Peggy Twedt, representing the people for the trailhead, said there is no access to public lands between California and the Kingsbury Grade.

“Currently people trespass to get to public lands,” said Twedt.

“The land owners are concerned about devaluation, the opposite, in fact, is true. These kinds of things enhance property values. They’re beneficial rather than detrimental.”

Jim Vasey told the commission he was in favor of the trailhead.

“It’s a beautiful spot,” said Vasey. “There are no other locations where you can get access I’m aware of.”

Al Walker said he was opposed because, he said, there is already access at Jobs Peak. Walker also complained about the proposal of building an access site so close to his residence.

“This area was zoned for single-family housing and still is,” said Walker. “If I’d have known about this, I wouldn’t have built there.

“We’re not the kind of people who build by the airport and complain about the noise. It’s morally wrong to consider these changes. I wouldn’t do this to my worst enemy.”

Sandy Cable, executive director of the Business Council of Douglas County, said that despite proponents claims that aesthetics such as the trailhead would attract business to the county, that item is really the last on a business’s list when a decision is made.

“There are greater needs in Douglas County than providing access for horses and for a small number of people,” said Cable.

Nate Leising addressed the commission telling them he was in opposition because making a trailhead at the site would make it a non-conforming parcel with the county’s master plan.

“If you do this, then other people will want non-conforming parcels,” said Leising.

Leising, who worked for the forest service said, “From my experience with this type of thing, you’re gonna get people living up there and people on motorcycles.”

After listening to more than an hour of public comment, Etchegoyhen closed that portion of the hearing to allow the commissioners to debate the issue.

“This is perhaps the forest service’s job,” said commissioner Don Miner, who likened the project to using Douglas County funds to help build a convention center in South Lake Tahoe. “I haven’t seen any justification to use Douglas County money for this.”

District Attorney Scott Doyle told commissioners their decision was a judgment call and not a legal issue.

“You’re legally right either way,” said Doyle.

“County funds are what we’re talking about here,” said commissioner Bernie Curtis, reminding the rest of the board the Douglas County voters turned down a similar issue in November to raise sales taxes to acquire public lands.

“I’ve done my homework on this issue, I’ve been at the site, I’ve met with people for it,” said commissioner Steve Weissinger. “I believe it is an excellent concept, but room tax and property owners are a sensitive issue.

“The forest service will go forward no matter what the county does. I’m torn on both sides.”

Etchegoyhen said he was afraid the county would eventually wind up footing the bill for more of these types of parks as well as the ongoing costs of maintenance. However he said he supported the trailhead.

“I want to be able to hike to the top of Jobs Peak and not just unless you know someone,” said Etchegoyhen. “There maybe 30,000 people who don’t know someone.”

Etchegoyhen ripped those property owners who said they didn’t want the trailhead close to their residence, telling the crowd that type of philosophy could be taken back to the time when Indians were the only inhabitants of the area.

“That ‘not near me’ stuff holds no water with me. We’re all from somewhere else. That’s ours and I mean that collectively, it’s ours.”

Commissioner Kelly Kite said he understands both the “not with the county’s limited resources” argument as well as the argument for trail access.

He talked about how he liked to ride horses in Colorado and how the last time he was there he had to unload the animals right from the freeway.

Miner made a motion to deny county funding for the trailhead and both Curtis and Kite voted with him. Weissinger and Etchegoyhen voted for the county to pay for the trailhead.