Suit close to settlement, but both sides unhappy |

Suit close to settlement, but both sides unhappy

Lake Tahoe’s bistate regulatory agency Wednesday approved minor revisions to the upcoming ban on certain types of motorized watercraft and may have moved closer to settling the lawsuit it faces for the regulation.

“In settlement, sometimes both parties are equally dissatisfied,” Larry Hoffman, a Lake Tahoe attorney representing several residents and rental concessions, said after Wednesday’s meeting of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. “This is not a settlement anybody is happy with, but it’s about the best we can come up with at this time.”

The agency’s governing board discussed the ban on two-stroke engines – which goes into effect June 1 – for nearly four hours Wednesday. TRPA governors approved to amend the ban – originally taken action on in 1997 – to eliminate a “loophole” watercraft not covered by the original ban. The board also agreed to direct TRPA staff to look into exempting certain low-horse power two-stroke engines and other changes.

The board will address those issues at a February meeting. If the lawsuit’s plaintiffs agree with those actions, the lawsuit could be settled.

“We’re obviously pleased with the board action on the staff recommendation, and although we were hoping to bring this whole discussion to a close this month, it looks like we’ve got a little bit more to do,” Pam Drum, TRPA public affairs coordinator, said after the meeting. “We will work as diligently as we possibly can to reach closure, so that the public can know what to expect (by the time the ban goes into effect).”

The governing board will in June 1999 ban carbureted two-stroke engines from Lake Tahoe; however, the ordinance leaves 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 1997. The agencies issued a report in December 1998, 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 is scheduled for May.

At the time of adoption in 1997, TRPA indicated one type of two-stroke engine, which was not carbureted, would comply. While cleaner than carbureted engines, the motorcraft still was significantly dirtier than four-stroke engines, and the agency’s action Wednesday eliminated the use of that motor.

For the benefit of concessionaires who already have purchased the craft, however, the amendment does allow the use of the motors until October 2001, if they were purchased before Jan. 27, 1999.

Mark Sentyrz, a rental concession owner who has purchased a fleet of the craft, said he is afraid the provision will not be enough, fearing that it may put his supplier out of business.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he told the board. “I’m in a quandary.”

Eliminating the “purchased before Jan. 27, 1999” requirement is one of the conditions the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are asking for. However, TRPA staff feels that eliminating that date would allow people to purchase the watercraft for several years, rather than just helping those who have already purchased the craft.

The California Air Resources Board took action in December adopting an emissions-based standard for motorized watercraft. It phases out the sale of engines causing major pollution, such as the two-stroke engine. It is the most aggressive state-wide action take against watercraft to date, and its 2001 standard for phasing out engines corresponds with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2006 standard.

TRPA’s actions Wednesday allow motors complying with CARB’s 2001 standard, which can be identified by a sticker issued by the air board, to be used at Tahoe.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, however, want TRPA to use EPA’s 2001 standard, which is not as strict as CARB’s regulations or TRPA’s current ban.

“(TRPA’s) new language goes partway, but it does not go all the way,” Fagen said.

Bob Hassett, owner of Action Water Sports which operates Timber Cove Marina, told the board he and other rental concessionaires plan to use the most up-to-date watercraft, not the loophole craft.

“There are some businesses out there, including mine, which are definitely going with the cleanest engines we can find,” Hassett said. “I think it’s important for the public to know there will be some clean engines out there.”

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