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Final version of ban coming this week

The ban on using certain types of motorized watercraft on Lake Tahoe – which has fueled controversy, national attention and a lawsuit – is less than four months from going into effect. Any final changes to the ordinance likely will happen this week.

The Governing Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Wednesday will consider including one more exemption to the ban, an action that may help lead toward a settlement of the suit it faces for the ban.

“We’re hopeful we can work something out,” said Jennifer Pruski, a Lake Tahoe attorney helping to represent the National Marine Manufacturers Association in its suit against TRPA. “We believe it’s likely we will resolve the issue.”



TRPA’s and the plaintiff’s attorneys met Feb. 19 in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, where Judge Frank C. Damrell stayed – or postponed – the case until early April. Also at the hearing, the judge allowed the attorney generals from California and Nevada to enter the case on the side of TRPA. Both states announced their intentions in January.

The ban, which goes into effect June 1, currently prohibits the “launching, mooring or operation of all two-stroke engine powered watercraft,” with three exceptions. The exemptions include more efficient, less-polluting engines than the carbureted two-stroke engine used by most Jet Skis and personal watercraft.




One three-year exemption includes what TRPA has called a “loophole” engine, the Bombardier Sea-Doo which is “powered by a two-stroke engine that has fuel injected in to the crankcase prior to entering the cylinder.” It is a cleaner engine than what the original regulation prohibits, but TRPA officials now would like it banned because it is not as clean as four-stroke engines. However, because at least one Lake Tahoe watercraft rental concession already has purchased some of the craft, thinking they would be acceptable, TRPA is permitting them to be used until 2001.

TRPA staff is recommending the board of governors adopt one more exemption this week, which would allow the use of watercraft certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as meeting its 2001 standard. That exemption would expire at Lake Tahoe in 2001.

The purpose of the amendment is to provide relief to certain members of the boating public and to settle the existing lawsuit, according to TRPA.

But whether it will be enough remains to be seen.

Larry Hoffman, the attorney representing the Lake Tahoe Watercraft Recreation Association, said the ban still does not exempt small two-stroke sailboat engines or under-10 horsepower outboard motors. Those exemptions and the grandfathering of existing watercraft are actions the plaintiffs would like to see.

Hoffman described the potential suit settlement as a “bastardized compromise.”

“The compromise is coming together. We’re not overly satisfied, and I don’t think TRPA is overly satisfied,” Hoffman said. “But I think it’s about the best we’re going to do.”

The governing board in 1997 banned carbureted two-stroke engines from Lake Tahoe; however, the ordinance left room for changes. Numerous agencies – the University of California, Davis; University of Nevada, Reno; and more – researched the effects of motorized watercraft on the lake in 1998. The agencies issued a report last December, which TRPA claimed reaffirmed its previous action.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association, Lake Tahoe Watercraft Recreation Association and several watercraft rental firms and residents in October 1997 filed a lawsuit against TRPA for the ban. A federal judge out of Sacramento dismissed most of the plaintiffs’ claims last year, but they filed an amended complaint shortly after.

A trial currently is scheduled for May.

breakout

What: Regular meeting of the Governing Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

When: Wednesday, 9:30 a.m.

Where: Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, U.S. Highway 50, Stateline


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