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February 11, 2013
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Lake Tahoe conservation groups file federal lawsuit against Regional Plan Update

LAKE TAHOE - The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's Regional Plan Update is headed to court.

The Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday challenging the TRPA's long-discussed plan for Lake Tahoe's future.

Among the environmental groups' assertions are that the RPU violates the agency's Compact because it will not achieve and maintain the agency's environmental goals, improperly delegates TRPA's project review to local governments and does not reduce environmental impacts to less than significant levels.

Additional height and density allowed under the plan have been among the group's major concerns with the RPU. The height and density allowances were part of an effort by the TRPA to give incentives to developers to move existing development away from sensitive land.

"This new plan fails to recognize that an increase in buildings, rooftops, and pavement will mean an increase in the amount of polluted rain and snowmelt-runoff that flows directly into the Lake," said Laurel Ames of the Tahoe Area Sierra Club, in a statement posted on environmental law firm Earthjustice's website Monday. "Stormwater from pavement and roads is the leading cause of the Lake's loss of clarity. Allowing more pavement and roads seriously undermines efforts to clean up the once pristine lake."

The lawsuit seeks to invalidate approval of the RPU and asks for an injunction against its implementation. The TRPA's Governing Board approved the plan in December.

The TRPA called the lawsuit "pointless" in a Monday statement.

Executive Director Joanne Marchetta said the Sierra Club's suit goes against scientific principles and delays needed policy improvements.

"Renewal is badly needed to realize environmental improvements," Marchetta said in the statement. "A modern approach to sustainability that mixes incentives and a streamlined permit process with high environmental standards is at the heart of 21st century environmentalism. This lawsuit takes us back to the outdated environmental movements of 30 years ago. Simply demanding that development should go away or people should stop coming to Lake Tahoe is not a realistic plan."

Passage of an updated regional plan was one of the requirements in Nevada Senate Bill 271, which threatens to pull the state out of the TRPA if certain changes are not enacted.

The possibility of litigation over the regional plan leading to the dissolution of the TRPA Compact was brought up in a Monday statement from League to Save Lake Tahoe Executive Director Darcie Goodman Collins. Collins said the League is "disappointed" that litigation was filed regarding the plan.

"While the plan is not perfect, it is a product of community collaboration and compromise, and is designed to be adaptive. It also ensures that we continue protecting the regional environment through a federally approved bi-state compact that contains important environmental thresholds. Any litigation will likely result in the dissolution of this compact and no compact means no regional environmental standards for Lake Tahoe. Preserving the compact and implementing the RPU will provide the greatest long-term benefit to the lake and its communities."

Goodman Collins said the League is hopeful the lawsuit can be resolved rapidly.

The TRPA's existing regional plan was passed in 1987 following a three-year legal battle.

The Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore have been active with litigation recently. More than a year ago, it filed a federal suit against the $500 million Homewood Mountain Resort redevelopment. Earlier this year, a judge ruled that the project could not go forward as initially approved by TRPA and Placer County.

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Feb 11, 2013 09:23PM Published Feb 11, 2013 08:04PM Copyright 2013 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.