Heavy fine asked for cutting ancient forest | NevadaAppeal.com

Heavy fine asked for cutting ancient forest

by Andy Bourelle

A Lake Tahoe government agency and a logging company accused of cutting down 49 old-growth trees should be fined $160,000, according to Jerome Waldie, chair of the legal committee of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

After reviewing testimony from a six-hour hearing in January, Waldie will be making that recommendation to the agency’s decision makers this week.

Waldie said he concluded that Menasha Corp., which has extensive timber harvesting operations in the West, violated TRPA rules at least 80 times during an April 1999 forest-thinning project.

The Tahoe City Public Utility District, as the owner of the 110-acre West Shore property, is jointly liable.

“While I do not believe Menasha is an evil company that set out to illegally cut big trees, I found that time after time it cut corners and bent rules,” Waldie, the California Senate Rules Committee appointee to TRPA’s board, wrote in his recommendation.

Paul Minasian, attorney for TCPUD, said Menasha has indemnified the utility and would be responsible for paying any civil penalties. However, he said he also stood behind Menasha’s assertions that it hasn’t done anything wrong.

“Menasha has been very reasonable and is a very professional organization,” he said. “And it is offended by this assertion. I believe it intends to defend it to the fullest.”

Waldie, who presided over a quasi-judicial hearing two months ago, will make his recommendation on March 22 to TRPA’s legal committee, a subcommittee of the agency’s 14-voting-member board. That group will then make its own suggestions to the full board, which can take action that day. The agency’s governing board can dismiss the penalty, agree with it, raise or lower it.

Mark Salyer, California administrative manager for Menasha, said he disagrees with Waldie’s finding and hopes the agency takes different action.

“With respect to Jerome Waldie, I don’t think (his decision) is supported by the evidence,” said Salyer, who is based in the company’s Grass Valley, Calif., office.

“I hope and I believe the board, after considering all the evidence, will see that ($160,000 penalty) as an exorbitant figure,” he added.