West Slope growth impacts Lake Tahoe | TahoeDailyTribune.com

West Slope growth impacts Lake Tahoe

by Jeff Munson, Tribune city editor

As El Dorado County plans where homes and roads could be built on the Western Slope over the next 22 years, some impacts would likely drift to the Lake Tahoe Basin, according to an environmental study.

Increased traffic resulting from West Slope growth would increase water, air and noise pollution, overcrowd recreation areas and put strains on vegetation and fisheries, the study shows.

“There’s not a whole lot you can do because with growth, impacts happen in a cumulative nature,” said Peter Maurer, El Dorado County’s principal planner. “As more people live in and around El Dorado County, there will be more of a demand on resources.”

The El Dorado County General Plan, which was adopted but thrown out in by a judge in 1996 for not following environmental protocol, has been drawn up again with four alternatives. This time it addresses a host of issues and the environmental impacts to back them up.

The draft EIR is available for public review through June 16. Written comments can be made to the county.

The plan’s scope is from the present through 2025. Among the four projections, county planners estimate population growth on the Western Slope as between 53,000 and 81,000 people. New housing units by 2025 are projected to range between 21,434 and 32,491. By 2025 there are projected to be between 36,188 to 42,711 new jobs.

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The population of El Dorado County is roughly 162,586, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

Because planning at the Lake Tahoe Basin is governed by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, El Dorado County projects a growth rate of 0.4 percent annually in the Tahoe basin.

The county worked side-by-side with TRPA to incorporate its environmental policies into the plan, Maurer said.

TRPA does not have the authority, however, to govern whatever growth and development occurs on the Western Slope.

Still, with the permissible levels of development within the basin and outside the basin, growth could make containment with TRPA environmental thresholds more difficult, Maurer said.

Impacts to the region include:

n Traffic. Under four alternative scenarios, traffic counts in the basin will increase by between 650 to 770 vehicles a day by 2025.

“Any increase in peak-hour volumes has the potential to exacerbate existing traffic problems on key roadway segments and at major intersections in the basin,” the report states. This includes the “Y” where congestion “can be severe enough to adversely affect nearby intersections…”

n Water quality. With any increase in traffic comes organic compounds such as oil, nitrogen, dissolved oxygen and iron on the roadways. However, with new development comes more funding for water quality thresholds, the report states.

n Recreation. New residential development in the county will bring added tourism, which will create a greater demand for tourist and resident recreational facilities, including ski areas, hiking and bicycle trails and boating areas.

“This increased demand may lead to increased degradation of facilities as a result of overuse and overcrowding of facilities,” the report states. “Additionally, this increased demand and visitation could result in a degradation of environmental and scenic qualities in the region.”

n Noise. New development allowed under TRPA regulations, as well as development outside the basin, would result in an increase in noise levels in the basin caused by increased vehicle traffic, aircraft, construction noise within the basin, and recreational uses including snowmobiles and watercraft.

n Development on the Western Slope would contribute to additional traffic and wood smoke in the basin, possibly affecting containment of TRPA’s ozone, atmospheric and wood-smoke thresholds.

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