unedited Tahoe Mt. News Sept. story
Recovery efforts take root
By Kathryn Reed
As rain descended on the South Shore, the South Lake Tahoe City Council took less than an hour to vote on three items related to containing runoff from the Angora Fire area.
Just as homeowners wrestle with myriad decisions in the wake of the June 24 wildland fire, so too must local, state and federal agencies. Each week has been filled with meetings – and that doesn’t seem likely to change for some time.
While the sense of cooperation exists, the city is concerned water and debris from property owned by others will inundate city residents and flow into the Lake.
“The reason for the special meeting is so the director of public works can take actions to protect the city’s residents from possible flooding and possible contaminated water from Angora,” explained City Manger Dave Jinkens at the start of the special meeting.
The council voted 4-0 Aug. 31 to accept a $274,000 grant from the California Tahoe Conservancy for emergency rehabilitation of the fire area; to have Poggemeyer Design Group provide professional services for the city in regards to Angora Fire Aftermath Mediation Projects; and to take $114,999 out of reserves to have the California Conservation Corp do Angora rehab work, have Kennedy Jenks Consulting Engineers provide technical support and have Liquid Innovations test water quality.
“We anticipate tree removal from the Forest Service creating the potential for landslides and avalanches. The consultant will provide a threat analysis,” said John Greenhut, city public works director.
Councilman Bill Crawford chose not to stay at the Friday meeting because he questioned the legality of Councilman Mike Weber being able to vote via teleconference.
“I would actually like to be criticized for spending money we didn’t need to spend,” said Councilman Ted Long after the roll call votes.
The CCC last month started placing sandbags in critical areas of the city to prevent deluges from creating massive problems and to keep debris from entering drainage systems.
“Ideally, they could contain the runoff on their property,” Jinkens said of the Forest Service. “We think they are responsible for all costs associated with that.”
Because the city does not believe the Forest Service is doing enough to prevent runoff from leaving the burn area, the city is being proactive.
The areas the city is most concerned with are Gardner Mountain, South Tahoe High School and water flow at Viking Way and Lake Tahoe Boulevard. The city is asking Lake Tahoe Unified School District and El Dorado County to share the expense. The city has contacted the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency for $800,000 in water mitigation funds.
“My staff was able to meet with the Forest Service and the Forest Service was very cooperative in helping us to get access to the site where we plan to build a basin. They did give us permission to do that,” Greenhut told the Mountain News hours after the morning meeting.
A drainage basin will be constructed at the foot of the hill leading up to the high school from Lake Tahoe Boulevard – on Forest Service property.
On school district property, the city will construct a head wall and trash rack on the storm drain inlet so branches and pine cones are kept out.
To further its cause, on Aug. 28 the city manager wrote a two-page letter to Harold Singer, executive officer of the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board. Singer is in a unique position considering he is one of the 256 homeowners to have lost his house in the summer inferno.
In part the letter says, “… the City requests that the Board issue an order pursuant to Water Code Section 13304 to the USFS requiring it to take all necessary remedial action, including appropriate construction of retaining berms, basins, levees, or other structures, to preclude runoff into the City.”
The city is concerned it will surpass the limits Lahontan allows for nitrogen, phosphorus, iron and sediment going into the Lake. The city could be held liable for the nutrients reaching the Lake even if the originating source is Forest Service land.
CTC takes quick action
The fire necessitated the California Tahoe Conservancy to call a special meeting on Aug. 13. It had been about 15 years since the CTC had an August meeting.
The Conservancy owns 229 lots or 102 acres in the burn area. Of those, 175 parcels or about 85 acres were burned to some degree.
At the meeting, the CTC board agreed to spend $2.182 million on Angora relief. Part of that is the above mentioned $274,000 grant to the city. The remainder is divvied up between the county getting a $600,000 grant and $1.308 million going to fire restoration on CTC property, as well as monitoring the fire’s effects and effectiveness of the restoration.
The board accepted $1.5 million from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – money that will go to fire restoration.
As of last month, other funding sources for fire recovery include:
• Natural Resources Conservation Service -- $350,000
• Cal Fire -- $375,000
• Forest Service -- $3.19 million
• California State Parks -- $20,000
• Other agencies -- $3.5 million
Sierra Pacific Industries will haul out about 1 million board feet of lumber from CTC property.
By the end of July the agency had a report about Angora Creek recommending a berm or riser upstream of Lake Tahoe Boulevard be put in to act like a dam.
Planning for the future
The CTC and Forest Service created the 10-page Angora Fire Watershed Restoration Plan in August. Fire suppression rehabilitation will continue through September, stabilization for the winter season will be ongoing through November, with long-term recovery efforts beginning this November and lasting through most of 2010.
More than $13 million has been committed to the suppression-rehab phase, with the bulk coming from the Forest Service.
Of the $8.7 million pledged for the stabilization efforts, about $5 million is from the feds, $3.3 million from California and $375,000 from the county.
“The focus of this phase is to prevent damage to life, property, and natural or cultural resources through the 2007 winter season. The specific actions will continue to evolve as the agencies continue to assess the areas affected by the fire,” the report says.
Funding for the long-term recovery has not been secured. The Forest Service is in the process of developing a multi-resource restoration plan.
“The federal, state, and local agencies, working with the Tahoe Science Consortium, are developing a comprehensive monitoring and assessment program to characterize changes in the Angora Creek ecosystem overtime,” the report states.
The main topics to be addressed are air quality, upland soils and erosion control effectiveness, stream geomorphology, water quality and biological resources.
Spotlight on Tahoe
At the 11th annual Lake Tahoe Environmental Summit at Incline on Aug. 17 the parade of speakers hit on forest management being critical to keeping the emerald waters pristine.
“The U.S. Forest Service has $10 million unspent. Spend those dollars Mr. Rey,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to fellow panelist Mark Rey, undersecretary of Agriculture.
She talked extensively about reducing fire fuels from the forests. As someone who has long had a second home in the basin, Feinstein is not just another politician out on a photo op. She toured the burn area and she met with fire chiefs from the region while she was in town.
“There is risk of a catastrophic fire. Not enough is being done to reduce that risk,” Feinstein said.
For his part, Rey admitted his department which oversees the Forest Service needs to act faster to achieve its goals – citing how three-quarters of the land in the basin still needs the first dose of fuels reduction management.
At the summit, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced another $45 million would be headed to Tahoe for environmental projects, with $10 million of that just for hazardous fuels reduction.
“When we think about America the beautiful, this is one of those places,” Kempthorne told the crowd of nearly 1,000.
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., has been at the forefront of trying to secure money for Tahoe and is a regular supporter of the summits that was first orchestrated by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“Over the last several years we have worried about Lake clarity and not enough about fuel reduction,” Ensign said. “We need to look at the whole eco system, not just erosion.”
He called the riparian areas near stream zones a “wick” that spreads fire because current regulations prevent thorough thinning.
“We have to love the Lake so much that we get bureaucracy out of the way,” Ensign said.
California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi seemed the logical state official on hand. After all, from 1974-84 he represented South Lake Tahoe in the Legislature. In his last year he authored the bill creating the California Tahoe Conservancy. In 1997, as deputy secretary of the Interior he helped organize the first summit, which created the Environmental Improvement Program.
Since that first summit, more than $1 billion has been spent on the EIP.
The inaugural 1997 summit brought then President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore to the Lake. Clinton returned last month.
“I’m the only person speaking who can’t do a single thing to help you. But I know someone who can,” Clinton said to a roar of applause.
He talked about first seeing Lake Tahoe in 1971 while in law school and the effect it had on him and then girlfriend Hillary Rodham.
“We owe the world the preservation of Lake Tahoe,” Clinton said. “By preserving places like Lake Tahoe, you will create economic opportunities.”
• Fire started by illegal campfire June 24
• Fire contained July 2
• Fire controlled July19
• 90 percent of burn area in National Forest
• 256 lots burned represent 144 acres
• Washoe Meadows State Park had 17 acres burn
• Angora Fire Fund is still accepting applications from people wanting financial assistance. Donations are also still being sought. Go to www.helptahoe.com; in person at any US Bank or mail to the Angora Fire Fund (Locals for Locals) P.O. Box 17640, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96151.
• Bi-state Blue Ribbon Commission’s first meeting, Sept. 10, 9 a.m., LTCC – report of recommendations expected March 21
• $200 million in property damage, according to Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner; 577 insurance claims as of his Aug. 23 meeting in South Lake Tahoe; 12 complaints filed with department; $82 million paid by insurance companies; information at 800-9274357 or www.insurance.ca.gov