Two-strokes gain an ally |

Two-strokes gain an ally

Greg Risling

California State Assembly member Thomas “Rico” Oller, R-San Andreas, is submerging himself in the heated debate over the phaseout of two-stroke engines on Lake Tahoe.

Oller blasted the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency on Friday at the Ski Run Marina for their “heavy-handed misuse of power” and said their acronym should stand for “Taking Random Police Action.” Approximately 30 people, most of whom don’t support the ban, listened to Oller and other speakers state their reasons for keeping personal watercraft buoyant.

Apparently taking advantage of a great chance to bash the agency and steal some of the attention focused on the presidential visit, Oller isn’t just tossing out idle threats.

He has proposed an assembly bill that would require the TRPA governing board to be elected by their constituents. AB567 is on the shelf until next year, according to Oller, because the bill hasn’t received much support.

“The TRPA board operates in a capricious fashion and this bill will hold them accountable,” said Oller. “There are some good and some bad members who currently sit on the board. Those who honor the public’s trust and provide sound balance in their actions will stay on the board.”

He also has requested California Attorney General Dan Lungren to review TRPA’s decision. The board extended the two-stroke ban on Wednesday to March 1, 2000 instead of Jan. 1, 1999. Boat manufacturers will have to return on Sept. 24 with proof that new, non-carbureted engines will be designed by 1999. Otherwise, TRPA will enforce the regulation, prompting an outcry by boat dealers and concessionaires who have invested thousands of dollars on boating equipment.

Echo Chalet owner Tom Fashinell said he could lose up to $100,000 in “worthless” parts because they will no longer be useful on the lake. He added that his business on Echo Lake only brings in approximately $40,000 a year.

“This ban is inappropriate,” he said. “The TRPA should go with the Environmental Protection Agency’s mandate that will clean up two-cycle engines by 2006.”

Fashinell was joined by jet ski vendors who chimed about the financial crush they expect will come with the ban. A big question mark is the potential concussion on recreational and tourist dollars that feed the lake’s economy.

“The boats range in price and most are making payments on them,” said Denise Sweeney, a personal watercraft dealer in El Dorado County. “Where will they use them? This ban will set a precedent that will be enforceable on every waterway in the nation.”

Oller commandeered his first watercraft at the floating protest, gently hitting the throttle. What the Assembly member didn’t know was that lab technicians from the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Board were in attendance. After Oller sped away on his provided jet ski, the two researchers took water samples at the lakeshore. Lisa Dernbach, a Lahontan representative, said researchers have conducted several such tests. The results will be packaged in a study for release next year. Existing two-stroke engines emit up to a fourth of their fuel and lubrication unburned. Proponents of personal watercraft said only 4 percent of Lake Tahoe’s contaminants come from boats.

“Some of the results are about the state’s drinking water level,” said Dernbach. “We’re looking at volatile organic compounds in the water.”

Without compelling scientific data, said Oller, the proposed ban is unlawfully excessive and unreasonable.

“You have the right to own personal watercraft,” said former TRPA board member Keith Klein. “The solution isn’t the ban because a couple of people abused the rules. I don’t think the TRPA managed to bring consensus with the two-stroke ban.”

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