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Memorial Forest Devastated For Bypass Highway

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By JIM SAJDAK  |  Tahoe City

A memorial forest in Tahoe City is gone. A Penny Pines Memorial Tree Plantation that once existed within the 64-acre recreational area was razed to make way for a new road. Started in 1941, the Penny Pines Reforestation conservation program funnels public donations to fund seedlings and other reforestation work in national forests. The Tahoe City site was developed in conjunction with nearly 100 garden clubs throughout northern and central California; donations were made in memory of more than 120 individuals including remembrance of the New York City firefighters and police who lost their lives on 9/11.

The reason for the loss is the SR 89/Fanny Bridge project and the new bypass highway going through 64 acres, however, the destruction of the Penny Pines forest was never disclosed during public meetings held by the Tahoe Transportation District. Not until members of the community brought it to the attention of the Tahoe Transportation District was the devastation acknowledged at all. And even then it seemed a minimal concern at best. But concerned community members didn’t stop there; the request for involvement to preserve or relocate the memorial forest was brought to the attention of the Central Federal Lands Highway Division, Placer County Board of Supervisors, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Tahoe City Public Utility District, California Conservancy, U.S. Forest Service, Washoe Tribe, and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein. Extremely disappointing is the lack of involvement on the part of Senator Feinstein who proudly acknowledges her stats on restoring fire roads back to the natural environment through her support of the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act; in contrast, the SR 89 Bypass project removes a natural forest to construct a highway.

On May 25, 2015, the South San Francisco Women’s Club submitted a letter to the transportation district: “Our members are very upset that your organization feels that it is more important to build a highway than to respect the conservation of the pines that were planted in memory of our members ... We wish that you would come up with a better plan.” No formal response was ever provided. The Tahoe Transportation District stated that since there were no individual plaques installed on the trees they weren’t sure which trees to save.            

Hopefully this letter will spark interest within the community to require the project partners to replant the memorial trees. It’s heartbreaking to see a field of stumps where just a bit ago was a plantation of memorial Penny Pines trees.

~ Jim Sajdak has lived in Tahoe City for 20 years because of his passion for the Lake Tahoe environment.

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December 13, 2018