Lake Tahoe's future development up for a vote


It's been about 50 years since an explosion of development began around Lake Tahoe. Restaurants, hotels and casinos lined the shore; boats filled the lake; and environmentalists sounded the alarm -- just as they're doing now.

"We are in a battle for the life of Lake Tahoe," says Michael Donahoe of the Sierra Club.

In 1969, President Nixon signed the Tahoe Compact, creating the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to oversee all development at the lake. The agency spent years drawing up a regional plan but one area was so controversial it was left out: the shorezone, where Lake Tahoe's water meets land.

Lake Tahoe is designated as an "outstanding national resource." That gives it the highest level of federal protection and makes placement of every pier and every buoy a big deal -- such a big deal that it's taken two decades to decide how many to allow, and how to regulate them.

"I've always thought every issue had some kind of middle ground that people could agree on. Not this issue," says John Singlaub of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

Next month the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Board is finally scheduled to vote on a shorezone plan, but not everyone is happy about it.

Protesters from the Sierra Club don't want any more private piers on the lake. There are about 770 now. The proposed plan would allow five new piers a year, up to 128 new piers.

"That impedes people's ability to swim, to kayak, to walk along the beach. They have to climb over or under. So it really goes against public access issues," says Donahoe.

Piers can add hundreds of thousands of dollars of value to a home and many homeowners with lakefront property feel they have a right to a pier.

"In one way or another, whether that's going in with neighbors to build a common pier, whether that's building a community pier, whether that's building an individual pier," says Jan Brisco of the Lakefront Property Owners Association.

The shorezone plan would also create something called the blue boating program to reduce boat pollution.

"First one in the country that will require boats to be tuned for a high altitude, that will make sure they can't have cutoffs on there for excessive noise on the lake, that they aren't dumping sewage, that they've cleaned their bilges," says Singlaub.

But environmentalists are frustrated because none of those requirements will start until there is more research. The first step is just to issue permits.

"Just by inventorying boats and putting a sticker on them, you are not going to reduce boat pollution," says Carl Young of the League to Save Lake Tahoe.

The League to Save Lake Tahoe also feels too many buoys are being allowed on the lake. Each buoy is chained to an anchor and creates a spot to tie up a boat. So the more buoys, the more boats.

"There are currently around 4,500 buoys that have been analyzed to be on the lake. The problem is as much as a third or half of those buoys are unauthorized or illegal," says Young.

The proposed plan would allow owners of illegal buoys to apply for permits. Environmentalists want them taken out. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency says overall the shorezone proposal is fair and will protect the clarity of Lake Tahoe's water. But critics say the plan will increase motor boat traffic and discourage what they call "muscle-powered" recreation.

A final decision on the shorezone plan has already been delayed twice this summer and is now expected at the end of August.

Details on the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's shorezone plan:

Environmental groups with concerns about the shorezone plan:

>> League to Save Lake Tahoe
>> Tahoe Area Sierra Club

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.

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