Shorezone talk ends Wednesday: Final public hearing is at Stateline
August 22, 2005
Conservation groups, boaters and property owners are planning to show up in numbers at a meeting which may be the culmination of an 18-year debate on how many new piers and buoys will be allowed on Lake Tahoe in the next 20 years.
A public hearing on Alternative 6 will start at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency offices in Stateline. This will be the public’s last chance to comment directly to the TRPA’s Governing Board on the agency’s proposals for Tahoe’s shorezone.
The alternative proposes 220 new private piers, 10 public piers, 1,800 new buoys and – as a mitigation for increased boat traffic expected from these structures – a ban on motorboats in Emerald Bay for one day a weekend during summer.
While many lakefront property owners consider it their right to build a pier for personal boat access to the lake, others consider piers an eyesore on public land and intimidating to public access, according to public comments posted at TRPA.org.
Sierra Club representative Michael Donahoe says the TRPA has received more than 1,000 postcards from at least 18 states and four countries opposing any new piers on Lake Tahoe.
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“There is no inalienable right for a private person to build piers on public lands in the Tahoe basin,” said Joanne Marchetta, lead lawyer for the TRPA, “because there’s a variety of factors that need to be taken into account.”
Those factors include scenic impacts, public access, effects on the lake and its resources, and fish and wildlife habitat.
However, an alternative which does not allow for more private piers would make the agency susceptible to lawsuits, agency spokeswoman Julie Regan said.
Others are pushing for a greater number of public piers.
“We aren’t saying ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on piers,” said Linda Mehrens, a 30-year South Shore resident. “But if they are going to allow piers, there needs to be more allowance for public piers. Thirty (new piers) should be public piers, and if the public doesn’t need them, they can revert back to private.”
Mehrens, along with many in the motorized boating community, is opposed to the proposed motorboat ban. She is starting a group called Keep Tahoe Public to “safeguard public access and promote stewardship of Lake Tahoe.” She filed for nonprofit status this month.
Boat sticker fee
Alternative 6 also proposes a boat sticker fee, which TRPA has said at public meetings would be an estimated $150 per boat.
“That’s just one suggestion,” Regan said. “We have to do a lot more research until we set a proposal in terms of a specific fee.”
Funds would go toward inspection and washing stations to make sure boats have correct bilge tanks and have removed attached invasive weeds that are clogging Tahoe’s waters.
Buoys have also been a point of contention, as many existing buoys are not permitted by the TRPA.
“What we’ve heard so far has been in favor of an enforcement process,” Regan said. “It won’t be fair to those who go through the permit process for us to reward those who don’t.”
The agency has also proposed that buoys be removed every winter, when they are not used, to prevent damage to the lake bottom.
Choosing one alternative
Last summer, the TRPA released five alternatives for the shorezone and an environmental impact statement for public comment. The agency received a host of comments for and against piers, as well as criticism from public agencies that none of the alternatives sufficiently mitigated for increased boat and human waste pollution on the lake.
After the public comment period ends Sept. 2, the TRPA will have to review all six alternatives to come up with one to recommend to the board for approval.
“We are optimistic that we can present Alternative 6 to the board as the preferred alternative with some tweaking,” Regan said. “Since we’ve worked so long in the past year to come up with a compromise.”
She would not expand on what kind of “tweaking” might happen, saying public comment has not been completed.
The proposed restriction of motorboats erupted into controversy last month, with senators and congressmen representing Tahoe stepping into the fray.
“There’s been a lot of misinformation circulating around,” Singlaub said in response to a question by Councilman Hal Cole at last month’s South Lake Tahoe City Council meeting as to why the issue had become a firestorm in the middle of Tahoe’s boating season.
“It was a media challenge,” he said.
Regan agreed Monday.
“People perceived from the media coverage that this was a done deal, and it certainly was not – that was a really big concern we had,” Regan said.
“The overall tone of the coverage was that it was a done deal. Sometimes people only read the headline.”
Lew Long, commodore of the South Lake Tahoe Yacht Club, had a different picture of what the public saw.
“I’ve lived here 35 years, and when they say something, 99 percent of the time, it ends up reality,” said Long. “So yes, when the public read about this, they had the perception it was a proposal, but learning from previous experience with the TRPA, the public’s perception was that it would eventually be implemented.”