South Lake Tahoe Airport- More on Tree Cutting

Thursday, August 24, 2006
Deal on airport tree-cut
By Amanda Fehd and Susan Wood
The Carson City (NV) Nevada Appeal

The city of South Lake Tahoe has signed a settlement agreement that absolves it of any fines or litigation from the California Department of Forestry in regard to the May removal of 387 trees north of the Lake Tahoe Airport. CDF gave notice to South Lake Tahoe City Attorney Catherine DiCamillo on June 19 of its intent to impose a fine of $10,000 for the city’s alleged failure to hire a certified forester to cut the trees, and alleged the city “intentionally, knowingly or negligently” violated CDF rules by exceeding the limits of a permit they issued on behalf of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. DiCamillo signed the settlement agreement four days later on June 22, after meeting with the City Council in closed session. CDF agreed to forego the $10,000 fine on several conditions, including hiring a certified forester and performing restoration.

By signing the settlement, the city did not admit fault in the case. The agreement also releases CDF from being sued by the city on any matter related to the tree removal at the airport.

City officials see the settlement as weighing in their favor.

“I think it shows how willing the only agency charged with forest health in the state of California is to not imposing a fine,” DiCamillo said Wednesday. “If TRPA continues to make noises about a fine, we could use it as a legal basis.”

TRPA alleges the city violated the conditions of its permit, which limited the number of trees cut to 100 between 6 and 10 inches in diameter.

City officials say the trees had to be removed for safe visibility. City officials claim the permit allows for the 100 trees, but also allows for all trees deemed a “hazard” by the Federal Aviation Administration.

DiCamillo wants the matter resolved “sooner than later.”

“This agreement came in relation to the Forest Practices Act,” CDF spokesman Mike Jarvis said, adding he couldn’t speak for whether the TRPA has fewer grounds to impose a fine of its own.

On May 30, TRPA staff members Brian Judge and Steve Sweet verbally ordered Airport Manager Smokey Rickerd to stop cutting down trees. Rickerd apparently told them he would stop the work for the time being, but they would have to provide an explanation in writing within a few days or he would recommence work.

On the afternoon of May 30, Rickerd left a voicemail message at CDF offices asking for help, according to documents compiled for the settlement agreement.

“FAA told him to remove more trees. He is asking for help from CDF,” reads the note taken from the voicemail message.

City maintenance crews continued cutting down trees and TRPA issued a written cease-and-desist order on June 2.

TRPA lead attorney Joanne Marchetta told TRPA’s Governing Board on Wednesday that the city has requested a meeting that could be a precursor to litigation. According to a 1992 settlement agreement between the city, TRPA, League to Save Lake Tahoe and California Attorney General’s office, the parties must not engage in negotiations on the airport’s operations unless they all meet formally.

“I don’t know where this relationship is heading, but want the board to know at this point there is the potential of litigation,” Marchetta said.

As a condition to the settlement, the city must hire a certified forester, conduct restoration at the site, devise a vegetation management plan, request an exemption to cut down more trees within the next year to meet pilot visibility requirements, and to treat the down timber to discourage bark beetle infestation.

Editor’s Note: What this article indicates to me is that both the CDF and TRPA need an overhaul, and new common sense leadership, which is clearly missing today. A state or local agency fining another state agency is job justification, not due process.

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