TRPA adds jetski exemption; lawsuit might be settled |

TRPA adds jetski exemption; lawsuit might be settled

by Andy Bourelle

The governing board of Lake Tahoe’s bistate regulatory agency Wednesday agreed to add another exemption to its ban on using certain types of motorized watercraft on the lake.

It wasn’t enough to settle the the lawsuit the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is facing for the ban, however. But officials still haven’t ruled out the possibility of reaching an agreement.

“I suspect we’ll be able to come up with an appropriate mitigation package (to offset the impacts made by the exemptions the plaintiffs want),” John Fagan, attorney for the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association, said after the meeting of TRPA’s governing board Wednesday. “I’m pretty hopeful that we can get the last little piece of the puzzle in place.”

At last month’s TRPA meeting, the governing board directed staff to try to come up with recommendations – what exemptions could be made and what mitigation measures would be required along with those – that might lead to settling the lawsuit. Despite long hours and numerous discussions, TRPA staff Wednesday said no agreement had been reached.

After almost six hours of discussion Wednesday, TRPA governors adopted one of the three exemptions the lawsuit plaintiffs were asking for – a three-year extension on the use of two-stroke engines used as auxiliary power for sailboats – and agreed to pay for mitigating the impact of the exemption, a cost of about $5,000. The board also directed TRPA legal counsel to work with the plaintiff’s lawyers and, if necessary, come back to the board with the other two exemptions.

Now the burden is on the National Marine Manufacturers Association to provide the appropriate mitigation – or compensation – for the other two measures, such as help provide equipment and educational materials to the TRPA to help enforce the ban.

One would exempt any watercraft powered by a two-stroke engine of 10 horsepower or less until October 2001.

The other exemption states: “Any watercraft powered by a two-stroke engine that has been certified by its manufacturer as meeting (the Environmental Protection Agency’s) emission standard shall be exempt from the prohibition until October 1, 2001.” What that would do is allow one type of craft – a Yamaha using a catalytic converter to make it cleaner-burning than other carbureted two-stroke engines – to be allowed for three more years.

TRPA staff was insistent that the governing board take action Wednesday, not postponing the decision for another month.

“Time has run out. Staff is pretty adamant about this,” said Gabby Barrett, chief of TRPA’s long-range planning division. “Staff has got to kick over to the education/compliance part of the program.”

TRPA is satisfied with Wednesday’s action.

“The final resolution of the litigation would have been unknown no matter what the board did today, because there was not a settlement to consider,” Pam Drum, TRPA public affairs coordinator said Wednesday. “I think the board did everything they could today to provide the boating public with as much information it could about what is expected this summer.”

What is happening this summer is a prohibition of all watercraft powered by two-stroke engines, with a few exemptions. The ban essentially eliminates carbureted two-stroke engines, which power most Jet Skis and personal watercraft and are considered to cause significantly more pollution to the lake than other engine types.

Only a couple models of personal watercraft – Polaris Genesis and Arctic Cat Tigershark – will be available this summer for use on Lake Tahoe.

The governing board originally adopted the ban in 1997, calling for the prohibition of carbureted two-stroke engines from Lake Tahoe. The ordinance, however, left room for changes, and numerous agencies researched the effects of motorized watercraft on the lake in 1998. The agencies issued a report last December, which TRPA claimed reaffirmed its previous action, and slight amendments – cleaning up the language of the ordinance – were made last month.

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. The League to Save Lake Tahoe and the attorneys general from California and Nevada have intervened in the suit on the side of TRPA.

A trial is scheduled for May – if it comes to that.

“We’ve gotten about 95 percent of what we wanted in filing the lawsuit,” Fagan said after the meeting.

Fagan indicated that one of the main intentions of the plaintiffs was to get TRPA to clean up the language of an ordinance that was “somewhat vague, somewhat ambiguous, that really created a lot of questions for the consumers concerning what was not allowed at Tahoe.”

If the case goes to trial, however, TRPA is ready, according to Barrett.

“It that’s what we have to do, let’s do it,” Barrett told the governing board.

Others agreed.

Said Rochelle Nason, the League to Save Lake Tahoe’s executive director: “You are on strong legal ground.”

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