Showdown expected over proposed jet ski ban |

Showdown expected over proposed jet ski ban

Patrick McCartney

Never before has a proposed action by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency attracted such an outpouring of public sentiment.

Since a committee of the agency’s governing board recommended a ban on personal watercraft to protect Lake Tahoe’s water quality, the TRPA has been inundated with a flood of letters in support or opposition.

At the same time, the agency and those most concerned with a possible ban are marshaling the best available evidence about the impacts of personal watercraft. The scientific data will be presented Wednesday at a 1 p.m. hearing before the agency’s governing board.

The meeting will be held in the Glenbrook Room at the Horizon Casino Resort in Stateline.

Gordon “Gabby” Barrett, a senior TRPA planner, said the attention the proposed regulations has received is unprecedented. By Tuesday, the agency had received 1,001 letters calling for a prohibition on personal watercraft at Lake Tahoe, 854 letters opposed to such a ban, and close to 300 letters supporting some other type of regulation of the popular watercraft.

“For us to get that kind of response is really unusual,” Barrett said.

During the TRPA’s review last summer of recreation and land-use along Lake Tahoe’s shoreline, a number of residents spoke out against the noise and safety problems associated with personal watercraft. But as hearings continued, a committee of TRPA board members began to focus on the potential pollution from the individual watercraft.

According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the two-cycle engines that power most personal watercraft emit between 25 and 35 percent of their fuel unburnt into the water. As a consequence, the EPA has ordered the marine manufacturing industry to reduce the emissions from two-cycle engines by three-fourths over a nine-year period, beginning in 1998.

For the last three weeks, TRPA staff has gathered available scientific research on the impact of personal watercraft on water quality, and will present its findings to the full board on Wednesday.

Others will also present their best information.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association submitted a thick technical report, which the TRPA has asked scientific consultants to evaluate. The League to Save Lake Tahoe, which supports a ban, has hired a specialist in toxics to testify.

And TRPA board member Steve Wynn, who has been the most outspoken advocate of a ban, sent an attorney to Europe to gather research on personal watercraft that was used to justify a ban of the vessels from lakes in Switzerland.

Barrett said the agency’s staff will try to present the board with as much information as possible about the areas of disagreement between the opposing sides.

“We have studies that say there is no impact, and other studies that say there is an impact,” Barrett said. “The technical people are telling me it’s hard to make a call.”

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