LAKE TAHOE — The release of thousands of pages of documents that hopes to guide development in the Lake Tahoe Basin during the next two decades was hailed as a long-awaited milestone this week.
Public review of the draft environmental documents for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's proposed Regional Plan Update and Regional Transportation Plan is also the start of months of debate leading up to a scheduled passage of the plans by the end of 2012.
“The proposed draft plan is just that — a draft,” TRPA Executive Director Joanne Marchetta said during a two-day meeting of the agency's Governing Board during which the documents were released. The meeting began at the North Shore Wednesday and concluded at the South Shore Thursday afternoon.
Several workshops and public hearings to discuss — and take comments on — the documents will be held in coming months, with TRPA adoption planned for Dec. 12.
During this week's meeting, lengthy presentations were given on the contents of the documents, which include a range of development alternatives for the basin.
What size projects will require direct TRPA approval, how area-wide erosion-control measures can be used to modify existing parcel-by-parcel requirements and appropriate building heights for each area of the basin are among the issues that will be debated during coming meetings. Much of the agency's existing 1987 Regional Plan will remain in effect under the update.
The only vote taken by the Governing Board related to the documents this week was how long the public comment period should be on the draft environmental documents. The board ultimately settled on the 60-day comment period recommended by agency staff.
Representatives from several area environmental groups pushed for a 90-day comment period, contending it is unreasonable to expect people to comb through and provide comment on upward of 3,000 pages of documents in two months.
“Read that in 60 days,” Laurel Ames, conservation co-chair for the Tahoe Area Sierra Club, told the board while stacking four large three-ring binders containing some of the documents on a podium.
“These documents are going to make a big impact on our economy and our environment,” added Darcie Goodman-Collins, the executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, while asking for 90 days of public comment.
Most people who spoke about the comment period during the Thursday portion of this week's meeting, including several representatives from area businesses, supported the 60-day option, saying it is time to move the repeatedly delayed plan forward.
“I'm kind of at the point of saying, look, this has got to get done,” South Lake Tahoe Mayor and Governing Board member Claire Fortier said in voting for the 60-day option. She said basin environmental groups have already begun to oppose the plan before seeing the documents, something representatives from the groups disputed.
TRPA staff recommended the 60-day comment period, saying the timeline will ensure the Regional Transportation Plan can be approved by the Federal Highway Administration by a Nov. 2 deadline, preserving millions of dollars in federal transportation funding.
Marchetta said the push to get the Regional Plan Update approved by the end of the year is not being driven by Nevada legislation known as SB 271, but by the desire of both states to complete an update to the 25-year old plan.
The Nevada legislation can pull the state out of the TRPA by 2015 if certain requirements — including passage of a new regional plan — are not met. The legislation does not include a December 2012 deadline.
The end-of-the-year benchmark was agreed upon by Marchetta, California's Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird, Director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Leo Drozdoff, following last year's environmental summit, Marchetta said.
Laird and Drozdoff issued a joint statement Wednesday regarding the release of the draft Regional Plan Update.
“Last summer, Governor Brown and Governor Sandoval expressed California and Nevada's shared commitment to Lake Tahoe, and today, we remain committed to helping TRPA complete the update of the regional plan by year end,” Drozdoff said.
Laird echoed sentiments from TRPA representatives during this week's meeting that, although an accomplishment in itself, the release of the Regional Plan Update documents is really another beginning.
“TRPA's release of the draft Regional Plan Update marks an important starting point that will require all stakeholders to work together in the coming months to complete,” Laird said.