Forest Service reviewing Incline Lake restoration
November 19, 2014
RENO, Nev. — The Forest Service will review plans to return a former private lake overlooking Lake Tahoe to a natural meadow with wetlands over the objections of Nevada wildlife officials who say it could be a premier trout fishery.
Agency officials say they will hold an "objection resolution conference" Nov. 24 to discuss the state's continued desire to repair a dam and refill Incline Lake along the Mount Rose Highway west of Reno.
Once a private enclave for Nevada's rich and famous, the Forest Service drained the lake five years ago for fear the aging dam could fail in an earthquake.
On Sept. 3, Nancy Gibson, supervisor of the Forest Service's Tahoe unit, determined that the dam should be removed and the lake should be restored into a wetland meadows to address public safety concerns, protect water quality and improve natural habitat.
The Nevada Department of Wildlife formally objected last month.
"Basically it's our last step in the process. It was our only option," Mark Freese, NDOW's supervisory habitat biologist, told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
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The lake on a forested ridgeline west of Reno was acquired by the Forest Service in 2008. The complicated transaction paid $43.5 million to the Incline Lake Corp., the former owner of the lake and 777 acres of land.
Original plans called for the lake and surrounding structures to remain, but lakeside cabins were ultimately razed. The lake itself was drained during the public acquisition process after inspectors determined its dam could fail and flood areas of nearby Incline Village. It has remained mostly empty over the last five years as the Forest Service considered options for the property's future.
The state argues it's a perfect spot to establish a recreational fishery for threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout.
"We see it as a great opportunity," said Kim Tisdale, supervisory fisheries biologist for NDOW. "It's a beautiful setting and it was a productive fishery when it was held privately. We know it would provide for a great fishery."
In his objection letter to the Forest Service, Freese agreed that "dam safety is indeed of utmost importance" but argued an improved dam could be built and the public protected.
Funding for the lake's acquisition was provided through the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act, with $5 million set aside at the time for the dam's repair. Spending the money for other purposes is improper, Freese argued.
"We believe that using this funding for planning and implementing a project outside the scope of its intended purpose is inappropriate and misleading to the supporters of the project," Freese wrote.
Freese also urged the Forest Service to meet with other parties with a stake in Incline Lake's future, including the Department of Wildlife, Washoe County, the Incline Village General Improvement District and the Nevada Division of State Lands "to discuss opportunities for partnerships and to explore and ensure the right decision is being made." He suggested a public meeting on the issue be held in Reno as well.
Cheva Gabor, spokeswoman for the Forest Service's Tahoe unit, said she couldn't comment on the Department of Wildlife's position in detail but confirmed discussions will be held concerning its formal objection.
"The process needs to play out," Gabor said. "We will see where we end up after that."
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