Injunction sought against shorezone rules
July 8, 2009
A pair of Lake Tahoe Basin environmental groups filed a motion in federal court on July 2 to try to prevent the implementation of long-debated regulations surrounding the development of the lake’s near shore area.
In November, the Tahoe Area Sierra Club Group and League to Save Lake Tahoe filed suit in federal court challenging the legality of the shorezone ordinance amendments, which were passed by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Governing Board in October. In December, the Tahoe Lakefront Owners’ Association – a private property rights advocacy group – also filed suit challenging the amendments and signaled they would seek an injunction to prevent their implementation.
Before the board’s approval of the regulations, a moratorium on the construction of most new piers on Lake Tahoe had been in place for more than two decades.
A lawyer representing the environmental groups – Earthjustice’s Wendy Park – said the groups did not initially expect to file a motion to stop the implementation of the amendments while the matter was heard in court.
But when the planning agency began the permitting process for five new piers – the maximum number of new piers allowed annually under the amendments – the environmental groups felt an injunction was necessary, Park said.
“They are proceeding with the approval of new piers before our client has gotten a chance to have their day in court,” Park said Monday.
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In the request for an injunction, the groups question the effectiveness of a “Blue Boating Program” outlined in the amendments, call the environmental documents for the amendments inadequate and contend the new regulations will push TRPA further way from reaching its legally mandated environmental goals.
Planning agency spokesman Jeff Cowen on Monday defended the adequacy of the environmental review for the shorezone amendments and contended the regulations will allow the agency to make headway toward its environmental goals.
Requiring boaters to take measures that will reduce the amount of pollutants they generate and requiring extensive mitigation measures from new development projects are ways that the new shorezone ordinances will move TRPA toward reaching those goals, Cowen said.
Members of the planning agency are grateful that the request for an injunction won’t block the agency’s management of existing buoys, something Cowen said is the initial focus of the agency’s shorezone plan and is critical to protecting the health of the lake.
The injunction request appears to be a move by the environmental groups to promote a “no new development” stance in the shorezone, something that the agency has determined isn’t legally defensible, Cowen said.
Effects on non-motorized boaters, public beach access and environmental quality are among the concerns of the groups, Park said.
“Tahoe is still very much in jeopardy of losing its famed clarity,” Rochelle Nason, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, said in a statement. “Algae growth is continuing with no end in sight, and bright green strands of it along the shoreline are becoming all too common. Asian clams are proliferating on the south and east shores of the lake. We cannot keep adding to the burdens of this fragile ecosystem and expect it to survive.”
Because more piers are expected to lead to more boating on the lake, the shorezone amendments also increase the threat to the lake from quagga mussels, Park said. The mussel is an invasive species that has caused irreparable harm to Midwestern waterways and has recently been found in dozens of Western water bodies.
A hearing on the environmental groups’ injunction is scheduled for Aug. 3, Park said.
“We don’t think (the legal challenge) will be resolved before the end of this year,” Park said “We want to make sure our clients’ interests are protected until there’s a decision on the merits (of the case),” Park said.