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President Clinton visits Tahoe

Patrick McCartney

Capping a historic presidential visit to Lake Tahoe, President Clinton and Vice President Gore on Saturday committed the federal government to restoring Lake Tahoe’s troubled environment.

In a ceremony on an Incline Village beach, President Clinton signed an executive order that declared Lake Tahoe an area of national concern, citing the basin’s “extraordinary natural, recreational and ecological resources.”

Later, during the Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe, Clinton announced that the federal government will double its spending in the Tahoe Basin over the next two years. He unveiled a program of 25 projects that will increase federal spending in the basin from $24 million to $50 million during the two years.

The administration will seek additional funding for future years with the cooperation of Congress, he added.

Beyond the promise of additional federal resources, Clinton praised the residents of Lake Tahoe for forging the type of partnerships that, he said, should serve as a model for other communities.

“One of the reasons that I wanted to come here was not only to highlight to the nation the importance of Lake Tahoe, but also to show the nation that there is a place where … everybody is working together in common cause …”

The other principal message of the Lake Tahoe event, Clinton said, was that it is a “false choice” between the economy and a healthy environment.

“We have to be able to get these false dividing lines out of our minds …,” Clinton said.

Also, the president announced an agreement had been reached with the Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada for the return of the Tahoe Basin’s first inhabitants to their ancestral summer homes. The U.S. Forest Service will enter into an agreement with the Native Americans that provides a site for a cultural center as well as land for growing traditional plants.

It was a historic decision announced on a momentous occasion. Clinton was the first president to visit Lake Tahoe while in office since the 1880 visit by Rutherford B. Hayes. And it was the first known visit to Lake Tahoe by both a president and vice president.

After landing at Incline’s Village Green in separate U.S. Marine helicopters, Clinton and Gore presided over the Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum, which summarized the findings of two months’ of intensive study by federal officials of the Tahoe Basin.

Invited to visit Lake Tahoe last summer by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., President Clinton turned what was first envisioned as a summer vacation into a concerted federal study of Lake Tahoe’s troubled water, the basin’s ailing forests and its makeshift transit system.

Over two months, Cabinet officers and their senior deputies held round-table discussions with Lake Tahoe’s diverse communities, seeking solutions to environmental woes forged by basin residents during years of conflict, collaboration and eventual cooperation.

The president and vice president were joined by the four U.S. senators from California and Nevada – Harry Reid and Richard Bryan of Nevada and Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California. Other elected officials included Gov. Bob Miller of Nevada, Reps. John Doolittle, Vic Fazio and George Miller of California, and Reps. Jim Gibbons and John Ensign of Nevada.

They were joined by Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman and Administrator Carol Browner of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Along with residents of the region, the federal officials participated in five brief discussions of the basin’s environmental problems, past successes in addressing them, and possible avenues for further improvements. Clinton shared the spotlight with his vice president, referring to Gore’s penchant for environmental issues.

“This may be one of the deepest lakes in the world, but he’s just about 6 inches below heaven right now,” Clinton said of Gore.

And Gore, a frequent visitor to Lake Tahoe since 1971, unabashedly praised Lake Tahoe’s unique beauty.

“Lake Tahoe sits on the edge of two states, but it’s smack-dab in the middle of paradise,” Gore said.


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