Opinion: What will all this development do to the health of Lake Tahoe | SierraSun.com

Opinion: What will all this development do to the health of Lake Tahoe

Coral Amende

As someone who's involved with efforts to keep the heavy hand of big development from invading the Tahoe Basin, I often hear us being accused of being "resistant to change" — of being "NIMBYs" who don't care where big development happens as long as it's not in their backyard.

I'd like to put that notion to rest: Not only do we not want big development in our backyard, we don't want it in yours either (or Carnelian Bay's or Tahoe City's or Truckee's) — because our collective "backyard" is undeveloped forestland.

As to change, we're all for it — just not at the expense of Tahoe's forests, ridgelines and wildlife. So, for example, if a developer decided to purchase some of the older beachfront properties in Kings Beach and build a complex of luxury cabins, we'd say "more power to you!"

But if that same developer decided to put a new tract of homes and retail smack dab in the middle of a forest, miles from existing infrastructure — well, that's when the objections begin.

Tahoe is a lake, of course, but it's so much more than that. Tahoe is also her forests, her wildlife, her rustic, easygoing ambiance, and of course her residents and visitors.

How many of those visitors come here for the huge variety of tourist accommodation units and gated luxury communities Tahoe has to offer? I would guess almost none.

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We live and visit here because it is still stunningly gorgeous and mostly unspoiled— truly one of the last great wild places.

But Lake Tahoe also has a sensitive and fragile ecosystem that has been in steady decline for many years — a decline that the TRPA has been unable or unwilling to stop, even under the old rules (the 1980 Bi-State Compact), which were much more stringent than those in the latest Regional Plan Update (RPU) which took effect in December of 2012.

The RPU has so many loopholes in it that the TRPA have been sued by the Tahoe Area Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore for abdicating their duties as the lake's guardians and environmental stewards.

You may think these conservation groups are sky-is-falling types, but I assure you that — as underfunded and understaffed as I know they are — they do not take the filing of lawsuits lightly.

Many of this RPU's new provisions are, in their eyes, seriously and fundamentally wrong; it has become clear that, should development occur on the scale that's being contemplated, future generations, and this area as a whole, will pay a steep price in declining air and water quality, increased pollution, and heavy traffic. Those are changes nobody wants.

Some of the projects in the works include Homewood, the "Epic Adventure" park at Heavenly Valley, Squaw Valley/Olympic Valley, the Diamond Peak Master Plan, Boulder Bay, and of course Martis Valley West — and this is not by any means an exhaustive list.

The assumption that somehow the TRPA will be able to "mitigate" or "manage" the ongoing and increasingly severe environmental stresses and degradation brought on by these myriad large projects is simply a pipe dream.

We need to get real — to stop assuming things will be OK no matter what, and start thinking about what this volume of new development is going to do to the short- and long-term health of this region and its inhabitants.

If developers and our governing entities begin to focus on redevelopment (or limited new development in areas with existing infrastructure) rather than creating large new tracts on forested ridgelines and in other ecologically sensitive and undeveloped areas, it will be a step in the right direction — and then they'll be coming up with changes we can all live with.

Coral Amende is an Incline Village resident.