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County tells boaters to be quiet

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune
Dan Thrift/Tahoe Daily TribuneNoise restrictions begin June 7 in El Dorado County.
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Operators of loud motorboats in El Dorado County waters need to tone down their engines starting next Friday.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a pleasure motorboat noise ordinance last month. The new law goes into effect June 7 and is meant to address noise complaints reported along the shore and at the Tahoe Keys.

The ordinance was spearheaded by Supervisor David Solaro, who represents South Shore.

“This is a practical, courteous and fair ordinance,” he said. “It provides a tool for our local officials to establish motorboat noise levels, but at the same time allows the potential violator to easily solve the problem.”

Common solutions would be to activate an engine silencer or install an acceptable muffler. Boaters caught running an engine beyond the limits will receive a $50 fine for a first violation; $100 for a second violation; and $250 fine for any additional violations in the same year.

Ed Hutt, general manager of the Tahoe Keys Home Owners’ Association, is encouraged about the new ordinance. He said the boats that make the most noise are unmuffled racing boats.

“We think this is a positive thing,” he said. “In the past, we’ve gotten complaints but by the time we get there the boats are long gone. This gives responsibility to the sheriff and in the future we hope to the city.”

The state of Nevada created a similar regulation last April. Fred Messmann, boating law administrator at the Nevada Division of Wildlife, said the program has succeeded in quieting waters on the east side of Lake Tahoe.

“By the end of the summer we had lots of compliments on how quiet it had gotten on the Nevada side,” he said “The only complaint now is that the noise is coming from California.”

A first ticket on Nevada waters costs $80. Douglas and Washoe County sheriff’s deputies and Nevada Division of Wildlife have patrol boats that address complaints.

“‘I’m sitting here on my porch. I’m a half-mile from the lake and I can hear this boat,'” is what a typical complaint sounds like, Messmann said. “Then we’d ask for description of the boat and how often it does that.”

Messmann said officers track the boat, test it for noise and issue a ticket that orders them not to operate the boat until the problem is fixed. In Nevada, officials want boats fitted with adequate mufflers, not an engine silencing system.

“The important thing for Nevada-side residents who already had one installed (a silencer), is that it is operated on quiet mode,” he said. “We’re not saying anything, only if they decide to make it noisy will we say something.”

Richard Horton, a co-owner of Tahoe Keys Marina and lawyer at Reno, said he’d like to see some boats get quieter, too. He said he doesn’t believe many of the motorboats causing the complaints are docked at his marina.

“I don’t know where they’re docked,” he said. “I do see them coming to use our launch ramp periodically. I doubt we have more than one or two docked at the marina.”

Steve Gadsby, harbormaster at Lakeside Marina, said the new ordinance will not affect many of his boaters.

“Most of the offshore (motor) boats are in Nevada,” he said. “I don’t believe it will affect us at all.”

Gadsby said the big boats that would be in violation of the noise ordinance often come equipped with silencers; if not, silencers can be installed.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency adopted the NDW regulations and are expected to adopt the new ordinance in the county. The agency Code of Ordinances also requires a 600-foot no-wake zone around the shoreline of the lake to decrease boat noise. Within that zone, boaters are not allowed to go faster than 5 mph.


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