North Tahoe PUD OKs trade of 85-acre property to Placer County
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — A deal to allow construction of a long-awaited North Shore trail is one step closer to being finalized.
In a 3-2 vote Thursday, the North Tahoe Public Utility District board of directors approved an agreement to transfer ownership of the 85-acre Firestone property, which it’s owned since 1990, to Placer County.
With that, the county would take over the PUD’s planning, permitting, construction, operation and maintenance responsibilities for the Dollar Creek Shared-Use Trail, which is planned to extend from Dollar Hill to the North Tahoe Regional Park.
“We’re not the planning agency, and I would recommend that we accept this deal with the (board’s) modifications,” said board president Lane Lewis.
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When asked in a follow-up interview about those modifications, interim district general manager/CEO Larry Marple said it centers on splitting the draft agreement proposed by Placer County into two agreements — one relating to property transfer terms, and another for future Placer County trail amenities funding.
“(The) intention is to make it clear there is no correlation between the transfer and money,” he said.
Lewis, vice president John Bergmann and director Tim Ferrell voted in favor of agreement.
Directors Sue Daniels and Phil Thompson voted against, to allow for exploration of placing a conservation easement on the property.
“I’d hate to cut somebody off and not give them a chance, but how long can you let it go?” Thompson asked. “And so I would agree to give it another 30 days … but if something was not resolved by then, then I’m in favor of going with the county’s agreement.”
The easement would only allow for future passive, non-motorized recreational use such as hiking, biking and cross-country skiing on Firestone land that’s not needed for the bike trail or PUD uses.
“… We may not be against a conservation easement at some point, but …. we don’t think it’s appropriate at this time,” Patrick Wright, executive director of the California Tahoe Conservancy, told the PUD board at Thursday’s meeting.
Delaying the agreement even by 30 days could threaten the trail, said Peter Kraatz, assistant director of the county’s Public Works department.
Due to a $3.4 million federal grant received by Placer County for construction of the 2.4-mile Firestone trail section, there is a deadline to have the project go out to bid in May 2015, he said.
“I cannot over emphasize the idea of spending more time with another potential option thrown out to you guys (is) that the time on the clock runs,” Kraatz told the board. “… The offer that is with you today — that we’ve worked back and forth on — I think makes the most sense to meet that deadline in May. May seems like a far way off, but we all know it’s not.”
Once completed, PUD residents and ratepayers will have a new recreational amenity at no district cost to them, according to the agreement.
As for other future uses of the property — which sits between the Old County and Highlands neighborhoods just east of Tahoe City — the agreement states: “County agrees to conduct a good faith public process for the property intended to solicit public input and disseminate information regarding any anticipated change in land use beyond construction and operation of the multi-use trail.”
It goes on to state that any land use change would require the purchase of the land at fair market value and be subject to environmental review and requirements imposed by the California Environmental Quality Act, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and Placer County.
“My vote is going to be to transfer the property now,” Bergmann said. “Let the Highlands folks deal with the county … fight that battle with them hot off the heels of now. … We shouldn’t languish.”
With the PUD board having approved the agreement, the Placer County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on it at its Jan. 6, 2015, meeting.
Afterward, the Conservancy board would have to finalize the agreement.
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