Altering Alternative 6 is the only way to save it
The brouhaha over the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s proposed “Shorezone Alternative 6” may be coming close to resolution with the public comment period closing and the agency preparing a final draft. Hopefully, the agency will see the folly – illustrated by negative public comment – in a proposed motorboat ban in Emerald Bay, and other weak points in the draft, before it is presented again to the public for another round of scrutiny.
The TRPA has claimed that banning motorboats on Emerald Bay one day a week, two months a year (during the summer) will mitigate potential pollution from future increases in boating. If another part of the plan – a proposal to increase the number of piers on Lake Tahoe by up to 220 in the next two decades as well as an increased number of buoys – becomes law, the agency assumes, rightly, that increases in boating will follow.
But the folly with this assumption isn’t that more boats will be on the lake in the future, it is that more boats automatically means more pollution.
If the last decade has taught us anything, it is that engines are designed to run cleaner, more efficiently and, in the case of marine applications, with a reduced amount of pollution discharge. The advent of more efficient, powerful four-stroke engines has made two-strokes a dying breed. In the case of Lake Tahoe, carbureted two-strokes have long since been banned. It is reasonable to assume four-strokes will continue to run cleaner and more efficiently in the future, but the agency doesn’t have to rely on assumptions, it can test the water to ensure quality does not further diminish.
The limited studies performed in Emerald Bay between 2001 and 2002 showed a decrease in pollutants in the water following the two-stroke ban (from infinitesimal to non-detectable). But even that test is not a reliable justification for any TRPA action, at least according to University of Nevada Professor Glenn Miller, who performed the studies. He has said the studies should not be used to justify regulatory action.
The only way to know the impact of boating (and assumed increases in the number of boats) is to do periodic tests as the increases happen. Without sound science, backed up by the numbers, the public cannot endorse a plan that would restrict access by private motorboat owners.
Other parts of Alternative 6 may also have to be sent back to the drawing board.
A proposed boat sticker program would ensure that boats in the lake meet pollution and environmental standards. But a proposal to charge up to $150 a year (an amount floated by agency staff during public meetings) seems extreme. Although the agency says the fee is necessary to support development of boat-washing stations (to aid in the decrease of invasive, non-native plants) and an inspection program to monitor other TRPA environmental rules with regard to boats, perhaps there is cheaper solution for recreational boaters. The sticker program is workable, but has to be affordable. Besides, the California Department of Boating and Waterways has said its money is available for a similar application – creating a new bureaucracy from the ground up may not be necessary to achieve goals stated in Alternative 6.
Fees are another issue with a proposal to add piers around the lake at a rate of approximately 10 a year. The agency would charge $100,000 for pier permits, but there is no justification for this fee. In theory, the number of boats that would be added to the lake with the addition of new piers cannot be tied to such a high fee in terms of mitigation, even if private piers serve to enhance the property values of lakefront homes. Collecting money just because you can has never been a function of good government, and has long been a grievance that has dogged the TRPA. If new piers are deemed acceptable to the agency (despite strong opposition to the proposal), then permits should be granted with reasonable fees. If they are not acceptable, then no new piers should be built. Money should not be used to leverage acceptable levels of pollution, and select property owners, however wealthy, should not have to pay for the pollution of the larger boating community. It’s basic fairness.
If the debate over TRPA’s proposed Alternative 6 is an example of “democracy in action,” as agency head John Singlaub claims, then the agency should identify the solutions the public is asking for, and proceed with shorezone rules we can all live with. In the end, the lake belongs to everyone and we all have a vested interest in its future. The public can live with restrictions to use and development on Lake Tahoe’s shoreline, as long as those restrictions are equitable in terms of cost, and based on reliable science.