Lake Tahoe Summit focuses on greater partnerships
August 26, 2015
ZEPHYR COVE — Nevada Congressman Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, recalled cleaning toilets at Sand Harbor. Chris Bently, chief executive officer of Bently Enterprises, said his first sunburn happened on the beaches around Round Hill Pines Beach as a kid.
Those were some of the stories business, state and federal leaders referred to during the 2015 Lake Tahoe Summit at Round Hill Pines Beach on Monday.
All presenters agreed that action must be taken to preserve Lake Tahoe for future generations.
Elected leaders also reflected on the need for greater partnerships, as well as proactive fire prevention measures.
"Wildfire, drought and aquatic invasive species pose a threat to the lake," said Nevada Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison in the opening statement.
The summit, themed "Connecting Lake Tahoe's Environment and Economy Through Innovation and Transportation," focused on managing the crowds that flock to the sunny beaches and chilly waters of the alpine lake.
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All the speakers at the summit agreed that partnerships are essential Lake Tahoe's continued success and protection.
Bently, CEO of Bently Enterprises, pointed to the public/private partnerships that have helped shape transportation at Tahoe, including $400 million in Douglas County. He said what the private industry can't offer is the needed public infrastructure, so partnerships are necessary.
"We have an opportunity to start new and rebuild in a proper manner in a way the world will recognize and continue to visit," Bently said.
One prime example, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., noted, was the Alert Tahoe program, a system of live surveillance cameras that keeps tabs on fires in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
"This system is making a great difference," Heller said.
Both Hutchison and Gov. Brown additionally noted partnerships between states have increased in the last few years.
Hutchison said this should continue to extend to all stakeholders to protect Lake Tahoe.
"I'm confident that we share this commitment and look forward to working together to make sure Lake Tahoe one most beautiful," he said.
Wildfire presented a major concern for the speakers, including U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Carson City native Heller.
"Wildfires destroy thousands of acres and wastes resources," Heller said.
Feinstein agreed, noting the Lake Tahoe Basin remains a high priority to western states. Both senators noted politics played second fiddle to the dangers in the basin and that it was a western problem.
They also touted the Senate version of the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, a key piece of legislation that would earmark $415 million in funding during the next 10 years. This includes $150 million in fire-risk reduction and forest management.
California Gov. Jerry Brown noted fires in western states have changed throughout the decades — meaning fires have gotten bigger and more intense recently. The Rocky Fire in Lake County was a prime example.
"That means we need to fight fires smarter and take care of our forests," Brown said.
California Congressman Tom McClintock, whose district includes parts of California's side of Tahoe, additionally noted the damage current and past fires created locally.
McClintock said the Rim Fire wreaked havoc near Yosemite National Park and was 80 times larger than the 2007 Angora Fire. However, the latter had wide-ranging implications because it destroyed 254 homes and cost the region $1 billion in economic loss.
"If a fire much larger happened, it could decimate the lake and its surrounding region for generations to come," McClintock said.
For example, a catastrophic fire could create ash and sediment that would damage lake clarity for years and hinder conservation efforts made during the last 20 years.
McClintock departed from Feinstein and Heller on congressional legislation however. He said his version of the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, while much smaller at $50 million, directly addressed fire and forest management.
The House version, he said, fits into the federal budget while being effective. Every attempt to reintroduce the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act since it expired in 2009 has failed.
According to McClintock, he hopes the federal government will agree on a plan by next year's summit and show that action will taken.
Many speakers commended the actions of fire personnel and remarked on the loss of U.S. Forest Service firefighter Michael Hallenbeck, who died fighting the Sierra Fire near Sierra-at-Tahoe Aug. 8.
Environment and invasive species topics also took front seat at the 2015 Lake Tahoe Summit, including measures already implemented as well as future projects.
Nevada and California have already invested millions in preventative invasive-species measures. Both versions of the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act promise funding, though the Senate version holds the lion's share.
Feinstein used the quagga mussel as the primary example of the importance of Lake Tahoe's boat-inspection program. One female mussel can produce up to one million eggs per year, creating adverse environmental impacts on any water system.
Feinstein credited enduring partnerships across public and private sectors for Lake Tahoe's environmental protection and the success of the boat inspection program.
Hutchison, Nevada's lieutenant governor, said the state approved $350,000 in funding to help with preventing new species from invading the lake.
"It is vital to prevent new infestations that are constantly threatening the lake," Hutchison said.
Transportation issues played an important role at the event as well, including the development of improved roadways and bicycle/pedestrian safety.
Carlos Monje, assistant secretary for Transportation Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation, noted that California and Nevada's populations are poised to explode. That fact means more cars on the road and more people coming to Tahoe.
Monje said programs that Tahoe Transportation District, Nevada and California are implementing will help manage that influx.
Those projects include bike paths on both the Nevada and California sides, as well as improved State Route 28 corridor plans.
Tahoe's high visitor volume raises concerns about erosion, air pollution and runoff. Rows of vehicles parked alongside the road present safety hazards.
Nevada recently invested $30,000 a year to operate the East Shore Express, a shuttle service that buses guests from Incline Village to the popular Sand Harbor State Park. Smartphone apps that help guests find parking spots could improve traffic flow, Hutchison said.
Efforts to develop more bike paths along the lake, and divert cyclists off dangerous, narrow roadways, are ongoing. The four senators from California and Nevada introduced a bill last month that seeks to invest $415 million in the Lake Tahoe Basin over 10 years, including $80 million for transportation projects such as bike trails.
"I want more visitors to experience the lake. And I want them to feel safe while doing it," Heller said in prepared remarks.
The summit has been held every year since 1997, when President Bill Clinton ordered federal agencies to formally coordinate to protect the lake.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.