Environmental thresholds sometimes put basin projects on collision course | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Environmental thresholds sometimes put basin projects on collision course

Gregory Crofton
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board member Stuart Yount, right, queries Jon Marshall, an attorney for the agency, foreground, about environmental standards, or thresholds, at the board's monthly meeting.

The look of an erosion control project is not always pleasing to the eye.

For example, the large rocks stacked along the highway on the East Shore help prevent erosion of granitic soil into the lake but, in the opinion of Stuart Yount, they also detract from the area’s natural, scenic beauty.

Yount, a presidential appointee to the Governing Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, stated his opinion about the rocks when the board met last week at Stateline to discuss thresholds – environmental standards the agency aims to achieve for things like water, wildlife, recreation and scenic quality.

The primary question discussed by John Marshall, TRPA attorney, and the board was whether one of the agency’s nine thresholds can be ignored when a project is being reviewed. The answer is no.

Every project must be consistent with the nine thresholds set for water quality, air quality, scenic resources, soil conservation, fish habitat, vegetation, wildlife habitat, noise and recreation.

But, on occasion, thresholds conflict to the degree that a building project cannot be approved by the bistate agency, established in 1969 to regulate development and to restore the diminishing clarity of Lake Tahoe.

A bike trail project at Tahoe City stalled for years in part because it involved conflicting thresholds: wildlife and recreation. An agreed to path for the bike trail ran through an area where hawks nested. So which is more important for the environment of the Lake Tahoe Basin, wildlife or recreation?

John Singlaub, TRPA executive director, said that question and ones like it don’t have to be answered. He said it is always possible to reach a compromise consistent with each threshold.

To back up his position, last winter Singlaub snowshoed out onto the land that created the bike trail deadlock. He was joined by representatives for various government agencies. Together the officials located a different but acceptable route for the bike trail that won’t disturb the hawks.

It’s a year later and the bike trail has not been built, but the delay is not being caused by the TRPA, according to Singlaub.

“We can always work it out,” Singlaub told the Governing Board. “To suggest there is only one way to do the project and it has to be ugly is invalid. We need to think positively about this instead of looking for conflict. My suggestion is to look for resolutions.”

Another way conflict could be avoided, according to the Governing Board, is for the TRPA to meet with project applicants before plans for a project are completed.

“It’s not a new idea to do pre-application work,” Singlaub said. “But it is something we need to put more emphasis on.”

The board’s 30-minute threshold discussion was a precursor to a more rigorous one that will be part of Pathway 2007, an effort to produce a 20-year growth and resource management plan for the Lake Tahoe Basin.

The massive planning effort, which involves four government agencies, is to include an update of the agency’s nine thresholds, which were adopted in 1982. Updated thresholds are to be based on the latest science, the public’s vision for the basin and the legal requirements set forth in the bistate Compact that established the TRPA.

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com

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