TRPA red tape reductions not moving as fast as some hope

Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, and two members of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency say they are worried support for reducing red tape blocking fire prevention efforts is fading with no major progress.

After the Angora fire this summer, the basin's fire chiefs called for major changes in TRPA restrictions on cleaning up pine needles and other debris, removal of brush and trees to create space around homes and businesses and improving forest health in general. They said one reason so many homes - 245 in all - burned was the lack of defensible space around them.

"You would hope the lessons learned would be acted on rather than repeating the mistakes," Amodei said.

He was joined by TRPA members Coe Swobe, a former Nevada state senator from Reno, and Carson Supervisor Shelly Aldean.

The issue was raised during the initial meeting of the Legislative Committee for Review and Oversight of the TRPA and Marlette Lake Water System. Amodei asked TRPA Director John Singlaub if the agency was changing its rules for clearing defensible space around homes and businesses and, if not, whether TRPA has the final say or local entities can reduce some of the restrictions.

Singlaub admitted the process isn't going as fast as many want but said the goal is to have all entities in the basin following the same rules and to make those rules work.

"We're doing everything we can to make sure our rules reflect the needs of defensive space," he said.

Swobe said TRPA "has the monopoly on rules for removal of forest fuels."

"We have lagged behind terrifically in providing workable regulations for removal of forest fuels. We're making progress now thanks to the Angora fire."

He said he is worried nothing will happen because the lessons of the Angora fire, which burned 3,100 acres in South Lake Tahoe in June, will fade before anything gets done.

"We need to seriously review and amend the regulations so we encourage removal of forest fuels," Swobe said.

He said not only fire protection is involved but preventing the flow of silt and nutrients into the lake, which reduces its legendary clarity.

"Safety and water clarity have to trump some of those regulations."

Aldean said the fire produced "a pretty significant culture change at the agency." She said the problem TRPA is having is to meet the needs to reduce fuels and improve fire safety versus the agency's bi-state, federal compact.

"It actually takes an act of Congress to change the plan," she said.

Because of that, she said TRPA must work through a very complex and bureaucratic maze of rules, meeting its mandate to protect the Tahoe Basin environment. The challenge, she said, is making the rules work without violating the compact approved by both California and Nevada as well as Congress.

"We're trying to stay within the spirit if not the letter of the compact."

The study committee chaired by Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, D-Las Vegas, agreed to visit the site of the Angora fire to see the situation for themselves.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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