Sounding off on shorezone
September 29, 2005
KINGS BEACH – After biting their tongues for three months, members of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board were finally able to interpret public feedback this week on the agency’s proposed shorezone plan.
Board members’ questions for TRPA Executive Director John Singlaub and staff ranged from benign clarification on some of the proposed alternative’s language, to downright consternation over what science was used to determine the plan’s course, as well as frustration over some of the plan’s proposed mitigations.
When referring to the number of piers slated to be built and the plan’s mitigations to alleviate any potential harm to the lake, board member Jerry Waldie was concerned about overall ambiguity of the plan.
“I interpret it that we have permitted development in the past but it hasn’t worked,” Waldie said. “If this is so, how do we justify in this self-mitigation where we allow development but don’t allow the mitigation to be disclosed?
“If you look at the environmental impact study, it’s hard to tell what improvements will happen by mitigation.”
Waldie then shifted focus to non-development mitigation issues and tied the two together.
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“The Emerald Bay (closures) seem to have evoked strong opposition; the boat-sticker program seems to have evoked strong opposition,” Waldie said. “The bigger question is what happens if these mitigations fail? Can we go forward with a development program?”
Last summer, the TRPA released five alternatives for the shorezone plan, which has not been updated for more than two decades.
The agency received a host of criticism from the public as well as basin groups and agencies that none of the alternatives sufficiently mitigated for boat and human waste pollution on the lake.
Alternative 6, which was released on July 2, was the agency’s answer to the criticism.
Dubbed by agency officials as the “solution,” Alternative 6 proposes 220 new private piers, 10 public piers, a $150 per boat “sticker fee,” 1,800 new buoys and – as a mitigation for increased boat traffic expected from these structures – a ban on motorboats in Emerald Bay for one day a weekend during summer; and a $100,000 fee for pier permits.
The solution has also stirred controversy.
“The problem we have here is simple,” said Sierra Club spokesman Michael Donahoe. “The (agency) wants something that’s going to set the standard (internationally) for lake clarity and preservation. They also don’t want to step on the toes of those who own property around the lake. The current (alternative) is trying to meet both interests. You can’t politically please everyone and do the right thing for the environment. It doesn’t work that way.”
League to Save Lake Tahoe program director John Friedrich spoke to the board about ending the controversy by removing completely any new development from the new shorezone plan.
“We should just not allow new piers and buoys period until we are able to study the effects of mitigation measures we do put in place,” Friedrich said. “I don’t know how long you would do this. There are some things, hopefully in the short term, that we can do to protect the lake. Why not start now, make improvements, and then figure out the contentious issues, the development issues – and put them on a different track.”
The agency has conducted a sufficient amount of scientific research to go forward with the plan’s proposed mitigation and development, TRPA spokeswoman Julie Regan said.
“People for some reason get the feeling that we pull things out of thin air,” she said. “This is truly not the case. It’s important for people to know that our (plan) is scientifically backed.”
TRPA’s studies performed by the Motorized Watercraft Technical Advisory Group 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.
While some in the advisory group’s scientific community said the studies should not be used to justify regulatory action, including University of Nevada Reno professor Glenn Miller, who performed the studies, agency officials said they stand behind the science they use and are even being watched by similar agency’s governing other bodies of water around the world.
“The irony here is we are out in front worldwide,” Singlaub said. “People from Switzerland, New York – we aren’t looking at what other areas are doing as much as they’re looking at us.”
This may be the very reason why the agency may ultimately want to curb development, Friedrich said.
“If we want to set the environmental bar so tospeak, if we’re out there on the frontlines, then let’s start by doing what’s right,” Friedrich said.
The board and staff will spend October and November reviewing comments from the public and discussing what the preferred alternative will be.
“It is important to remember through this whole process that all the alternatives will be studied; alternative one means keeping the rules we have today,” Regan said. “Alternative four means no new private piers, only public piers. Alternative five actually looks at reducing piers. The different alternatives are all being considered as part of the final. Most likely we’re going to come up with a hybrid.
“There will be a preferred alternative,” Regan said. “After it is identified, it will be presented to the board and the public with proposed ordinances. The public said it will be helpful when we bring an preferred alternative forward to present the proposed ordinances.”
TRPA staff said the preferred alternative and proposed ordinances will be presented to the public by February 2006.