An advisory work group the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency formed to review ideas to boost property-owner compliance with erosion control and stormwater infiltration requirements got an earful from the local real estate industry Tuesday.
Members of the industry strongly oppose a longstanding and controversial proposal that would require TRPA best management practices to be installed and certified when a property is sold. Lining up to speak at the work group’s second meeting, they asked that the proposal be killed once and for all.
Several work group members seemed to favor tabling the proposal for two years until the Regional Plan Update is formally reviewed, if not dismissing it altogether. TRPA staffers said the proposal has some shortcomings, even if it could boost BMP compliance rates.
For starters, single-family homes that make up the bulk of property sales contribute relatively low amounts of polluted stormwater into Lake Tahoe. Multifamily and commercial properties can generate up to eight times as much sediment, while public roads can generate 20 times more sediment.
If every single-family property in the basin had BMPs installed, local jurisdictions still would not be able to meet their stormwater pollution load reduction targets in the Total Maximum Daily Load program, said Shay Navarro, stormwater program manager for TRPA.
“So we want to focus resources on the most effective strategies for the greatest water quality improvement,” Navarro said.
Other concerns raised about the point-of-sale requirement: It could lead to shoddy BMP installation and a lack of needed maintenance. Also, if quality BMP projects are installed on major properties just for them to be sold, that could discourage needed environmental redevelopment by owners unwilling to tear out and replace projects that cost tens of thousands of dollars.
“I would recommend to dismiss the requirement for point-of-sale altogether,” said Jason Kuchnicki, a member of the work group and an environmental scientist with Nevada Department of Environmental Protection. “It will lead to crappy BMPs in areas that don’t matter.”
The point-of-sale BMP requirement is one of several proposals being considered as TRPA looks for the most effective ways to focus limited resources to achieve environmental gain.
Another idea that drew some harsh criticism Tuesday would require BMP installation within one year after close of escrow. Critics of that proposal latched onto enforcement difficulties as well as language in the bi-state compact that authorizes TRPA to levy fines up to $5,000 per day, calling it ridiculous that a homeowner could face fines of nearly $2 million for one year of noncompliance.
Such stiff penalties have traditionally only been imposed for the largest violations and would be unprecedented for residential BMP violations, said Julie Regan, chief of external affairs at TRPA.
An existing penalty matrix for residential BMP violations lays out penalties of $1,000 for one year of noncompliance, $2,500 for two years of noncompliance and $4,000 for three years of noncompliance.
Some working group members expressed concern that cracking down on homeowners would burn goodwill as TRPA and other jurisdictions consider asking residents to approve service districts and other funding mechanisms to build or maintain area-wide projects to capture and treat stormwater from multiple properties, such as the Bijou erosion control project in South Lake Tahoe.
The Regional Plan Update that TRPA adopted in December 2012 offers greater flexibility for area-wide projects to capture and treat stormwater, and some people see that as a better approach toward BMP compliance than simply enforcing BMP requirements on a parcel-by-parcel basis.
Jason Burke, stormwater program manager for the city of South Lake Tahoe and a member of the working group, said he would prefer to continue to target road improvements, and to pursue area-wide projects that involve public and private partnerships and a large number of properties.
Area-wide projects can be more easily maintained, Burke said. “For us, it’s a much more effective way at making sure projects are maintained to improve lake quality. It’s much more cost effective to remove material (from a collection vault) instead of trying to track down 50 to 1,000 property owners and harass them.”
Other proposals include targeted BMP enforcement in areas around water quality improvement projects, some of which is already being done, as well as a recording a notice of noncompliance to a property’s deed.
Total BMP compliance rates are 62 percent in Nevada and 28 percent in California and the average cost of installing BMPs is $5,000 for a single-family property and $50,000 for a multifamily or commercial property, according to prior work group discussions.
The work group will meet again Wednesday, August 20 to try to agree on a formal list of recommendations for the TRPA Governing Board and other TRPA comittees to consider.