Two-cycle phaseout tough call for local board members
Wednesday’s landmark decision by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s governing board to phase out two-cycle engines from Lake Tahoe was a tough one.
The agency’s board had to choose between the need to protect the lake from discharges of gasoline, or respond to appeals from sailors, anglers and companies that sell or rent personal watercraft like Kawasaki Jet Skis.
But the decision was even more difficult for the six members of the agency’s 14-member board who represent the five counties and one city that share the Tahoe Basin. In the end, though, three of the six approved the two-year phaseout of current-technology two-stroke engines, citing their responsibility to protect Lake Tahoe from pollution.
Unlike the rest of the TRPA’s members, many of whom live in other areas of California and Nevada, the TRPA’s local government representatives had to go home and defend their decision to their neighbors.
“It was a difficult decision,” said Douglas County Supervisor Don Miner, who supported the phaseout. “I have close friends who are involved in the business of renting jet skis, but it was a decision where I felt I had to protect Lake Tahoe.”
After the board approved the two-year phaseout of carbureted two-stroke engines, Miner asked for a reconsideration, with the phaseout period extended to three years. The motion failed by a single vote.
The TRPA received more than 2,000 letters lobbying the agency during the yearlong review of the impact of boating on Lake Tahoe. Local government representatives felt that pressure directly, Miner said.
“There was a tremendous amount of pressure to do the right thing for the business community, for tourists and for the environment,” Miner said. “I knew there would be an economic impact, but I also knew that we had the time (with the phaseout) to lessen the impact.”
Jim Galloway, a Washoe County supervisor who also supported the phaseout, said he faced the same dilemma.
“We had to compromise between the urgency of the problem and the effects of the regulations on people,” Galloway commented during Wednesday’s six-hour hearing.
But other local board members questioned whether the two-cycle regulations are warranted.
“There’s no evidence in front of me that this is a public health matter,” said El Dorado County Supervisor Ray Nutting, who was an alternate for Supervisor John Upton. Upton had previously declared his opposition to the ban.
Nutting also questioned the need for a 600-foot no-wake zone around Lake Tahoe, suggesting that areas should be identified where noise is not an issue.
Hal Cole, a South Lake Tahoe councilman who represents the city, said he opposed the phaseout because it unfairly singles out two-cycle engines, and will be difficult to enforce.
“All human activities have an impact on the lake,” Cole said. “My interest is, if we regulate human activity, it must be more deleterious than other activities. If the question of how much fuel remains in the water is not answered, it’s difficult to take action.”
South Lake Tahoe Mayor Tom Davis on Thursday criticized the TRPA action, saying it would send the wrong message to the tourists that the Tahoe economy relies on.
“It’s one more nail in the coffin of Lake Tahoe tourism. It could bankrupt these guys,” Davis said of the basin’s watercraft rental and sales firms.
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