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Commissioners withhold support for Feinstein bill

by Sheila Gardner

Mindful of their rocky relationship with the U.S. Forest Service, Douglas County Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to withhold support for a bill to designate land in the Lake Tahoe Basin as scenic forest and recreation area until they have more information.

The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would require the Forest Service to develop an Environmental Restoration Priority List for the National Scenic Forest and Recreation Area. The bill authorizes $20 million annually for implementation of projects on the priority list.

Commissioner Steve Weissinger said language in the 17-page bill is too ambiguous.

“I’m not going to support this at all,” he said.

The bill would require the priority list to include projects designed to improve Lake Tahoe water quality, forest health, air quality, wildlife habitat, and scenic and recreational resources. The bill also amends an existing program that gives money to local governments in the Lake Tahoe Basin for erosion control projects.

“The money is nice,” said Commissioner Don Miner, “but the only carrot is the cash.”

The bill specifies that local governments can use the funds for restoration of wetlands and stream environment zones; planting of native vegetation; restoration of fish and wildlife habitat; and soil conservation projects.

“I’ve always been a resource-oriented person, and I don’t know how I’ve become so cynical at age 40,” said Commission Chairman Jacques Etchegoyhen. “It sounds so hunky-dory on the surface, yet you know it ain’t.”

n Too many unknowns. In a report to commissioners, County Manager Dan Holler said the legislation contained several unknowns.

“It is unclear if it will have an additional regulatory impact on the Basin, further limiting local government authority and control over lands. The projects for which funding may be provided are primarily capital projects. There is a substantial question regarding ongoing maintenance of facilities and we are not sure if additional authority for review of projects will be granted to the Forest Service,” Holler said.

He also questioned whether local government will have input in the list of environmental projects.

“In general, the concept of having additional dollars come to the Basin is good. The bill does not appropriate funds, it just authorizes the funds, so there is a question of whether any of the funds identified would actually be appropriated,” he said.

“Be careful what you ask for, you might get it,” cautioned Commissioner Bernie Curtis.

Commissioners also questioned what they perceived as hasty approval for the measure by the Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors at a special meeting May 24.

“The chamber was going to hold off until it got better information, then four days later they hold a special meeting of the board of directors and slam dunk it,” said Commissioner Don Miner. “There is pressure up there to support it.”