A Kings Beach homeowner may face a $35,000 fine allegations that he illegally cut seven Jeffrey Pine trees on state property to enhance his view of Lake Tahoe.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency board will decide whether to levy the fine at their meeting on Wednesday. The agency's staff has recommended the maximum fine - $5,000 per tree.
The agency alleges that the owner of a home at 489 Beaver St., Avion Inc., is responsible for the tree cutting. According to both the agency and the California Tahoe Conservancy, which owns the property where the trees were cut, seven Jeffrey Pines were either girdled, limbed or topped. One tree has a rigging system drilled into its trunk to apparently aid in cutting the tree.
"We have nothing to do with that," said Mark Stewart, asset manager for Avion Inc., in a telephone conversation Wednesday.
Stewart would not comment on what he or his company, which he said is a property rental business, would do if the fine is approved.
"They think because we are absentee homeowners we are an easy target," said Stewart.
Milan Yeates, a forester with the California Tahoe Conservancy, said the pines ranged from 15-25 inches in diameter at breast height.
The conservancy owns a number of adjoining vacant lots, said Ray Lacey, the deputy director of the conservancy.
Each state parcel is inspected once a year, but damage, vandalism or tree cutting is unusual, said Lacey.
"It's very rare. Most people really respect what we do and value having conservancy property in the neighborhood," said Lacey.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency originally proposed a $60,000 fine for the alleged offense, saying 12 trees had been damaged. The reduction to an estimate of seven damaged trees left the agency with a maximum penalty of $35,000.
The agency said they are pursuing the maximum penalty because the offense was egregious, several cut limbs were left in the treetops and posed a hazard to the public and the alleged violators did not cooperate fully with the agency.
One pine on the property owned by Avion was cut down, but Avion said it was dead and had a large crack in the trunk.
The agency said an eyewitness asserted that Avion official Michael Sahlbach was seen either directing or conducting the limb removal.
While Avion Inc. continues to assert they did not cut the tree limbs, they did offer to pay $2,400 as a settlement to avoid legal costs, according to TRPA documentation.
The planning agency has repeatedly levied fines for unpermitted tree removal in the Tahoe Basin, including fines against the South Lake Tahoe Airport and a case that lakefront homeowner John Fitzhenry settled for $50,000. The agency alleged that Fitzhenry had drilled holes in three large pine trees and poured poison into the holes to kill the trees off and expand his lake view.
"This isn't the biggest (case) we've dealt with," said Dennis Oliver, a spokesman for the TRPA. "Depending on the number of trees involved these settlements have gotten up into the six figures."