TRPA still floating ideas about buoys |

TRPA still floating ideas about buoys

Gregory Crofton
Dan Thrift/Tahoe Daily Tribune Buoys in the lake before the TRPA still may need permits.

It’s an old buoy, but is it a legal buoy?

The board that governs Lake Tahoe met Wednesday and got into a heated discussion with its staff about whether the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency should grant legal status or “grandfather” buoys that have been on the lake for decades.

“The applicant’s motive is to move into compliance,” said Tahoe City attorney Gregg Lien. “The buoys were there long before your agency existed.”

In the end, the TRPA Governing Board rejected the applicant but agreed to revisit the issue when it meets next month.

The agency created a system two years ago to help locate and tag legal buoys and remove illegal ones from Lake Tahoe. Staff at the TRPA has since issued buoy permit tags for 2,300 of 4,400 buoys in the lake. Most of the tags have been issued for buoys owned by marinas or homeowner associations.

Lien spoke to the TRPA Governing Board on behalf of Dr. Douglas Rhodes, a Tahoe Vista resident who has two buoys off his lakeshore property on North Lake Boulevard.

Lien argued the buoys should be granted a legal status by the TRPA because they have been located off the property since the 1930s, way before there were any shorezone regulations at Lake Tahoe.

Singlaub and staff argued to its Governing Board that there is not sufficient evidence – no documentation – to prove the buoys have been located off the Rhodes’ property since the 1930s.

Lien presented aerial photographs and a sworn statement from the man who owned the property prior to Rhodes as evidence that the buoys had been there for decades.

Under existing shorezone rules, Rhodes’ property does not have enough lakeshore frontage to allow any buoys in the lake in front of his property. But the TRPA has not asked him to remove the buoys, Singlaub said, because the agency plans to adopt new ordinances for the shorezone before the end of the year.

“I have no faith at all the ordinances will be adopted this year or even next year,” Lien said. “A lot of times we’ve been close in the past, but we’re 17 years late in adopting this ordinance. In the meantime we ought to be to able to have legal recognition of existing shorezone structures.”

The new TRPA shorezone ordinances are expected to determine if there will be a “grandfather” clause for buoys or some type of amnesty program, said Julie Regan, TRPA communication director.

The majority of the board made clear they felt Rhodes’ buoys should recognized by the TRPA as legal structures. Despite those sentiments, the agency’s decision not to grant legal status to Rhodes’ buoys was supported by the Governing Board because of its bistate voting structure.

Governing Board member Coe Swobe, a Nevada-member-at-large, who lives in Reno, said he was ashamed of the confusion at the meeting.

“This is a sad day for the state of this agency,” Swobe, a former Nevada state senator who helped create the TRPA, said. “Our staff doesn’t know what they heck they are doing.”

A motion on Wednesday for the board to reconsider the matter at its meeting next month failed. All it took was one “no” vote to kill the motion.

But on Thursday, TRPA staff said the Rhodes’ buoy matter would be revisited by the board in September.

“It will most likely be agendized for next board meeting,” Regan said. “The board at meeting in September will collectively decide whether to entertain (another) reconsideration.”

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at

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