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Buoy Business

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunA boat replaces buoys on Lake Tahoe's West Shore last Tuesday.
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Don’t talk to Geoff Burrows about the Tahoe shoulder season.

Just as ski resorts shutter their slopes for the spring and the region lulls into the doldrums of spring, Burrows, owner of High Sierra Marine, is overseeing a frenzy of business on the lake.

His two boats are at the height of their season rigging buoys for the upcoming summer when boating on Tahoe is in full swing.



“As soon as it gets nice the floodgates are open,” said Burrows from his Tahoe City office, with the company radio crackling intermittently in the background. “We’re going like gangbusters for three months from spring into early summer.”

Even as Burrows’ boats ply the lake this spring, the very heart of their business ” buoys and boating ” are being bandied around by Tahoe decision-makers looking for a long-range plan for lake recreation regulation over the next two decades.



The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Shorezone Proposal would allow 1,862 new buoys to be added to Lake Tahoe over the next 20 years, but would also amp up regulation of unpermitted buoys.

The new regulations concern Burrows little. His business has a healthy mix of work servicing existing buoys, diving, salvaging and fixing lake water pump systems, he said.

“Eventually if they remove enough buoys … then sure, that would have an impact, but I don’t think there are many of those [illegal buoys],” he said.

Burrows, whose company serves all shores of Lake Tahoe, said that many of the “illegal” buoys that people refer to are actually just unpermitted buoys that will eventually be permitted by lakefront homeowners.

Today, the regulation of buoys on Lake Tahoe is lax. The loose oversight comes from a convoluted bureaucracy that stands between a homeowner and a permit, and also the enforcement team on the lake and their ability to enforce buoy ordinances, said Julie Regan, communications manager for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

Property owners must get permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, either the California or Nevada state lands commission, and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to have a permitted buoy.

“It’s a pretty cumbersome regulatory burden,” said Regan.

The agency’s Shorezone proposal seeks to change that, combining the permitting power under one agency.

The proposal also looks to iron out the powers of enforcement, policies that have made it impossible for the planning agency ” which has a patrol boat on Lake Tahoe “-to actually enforce buoy ordinances.

Since the lake bed is owned by the state lands commissions from California and Nevada, they are the only ones legally allowed to pull illegal buoys from the lake, said Regan.

The planning agency’s boat team only establishes GPS coordinates for unpermitted buoys and sends out letters to homeowners that are found using a buoy that has no permit, she said.

But while enforcement may expand under a new Lake Tahoe Shorezone Plan, a cap on the number of buoys allowed on Lake Tahoe would also take effect.

“There is no quota or cap [right now] and that is part of the reason we want to do the Shorezone ordinance ” to develop a cap,” said Regan.

That proposed cap stands at 6,316 “-accounting for the estimated 4,454 current buoys and an additional 1,862 that would be allowed over the 20-year life of the plan.

Unpermitted buoys are a problem on Lake Tahoe, said Regan, but that is mostly because the bureaucracy has not caught up with the permitting of many of the buoys that will likely be allowed in the future.

“We have anywhere from one third to one half of the buoys on the lake that do not have a permit,” said Regan, saying there needs to be an “administrative catch-up.”

“Most of the buoys we would be permitting would be the buoys that are already there,” said Regan. “There wouldn’t be an onslaught of new buoys.”


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