My Turn: Blue boating and red herrings
Executive Director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe
The League to Save Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Club work hard to protect the natural resources of the Lake Tahoe Basin. As conservation advocates, we collaborate with promoters of business, property rights, social justice, and other interests to develop broadly supported solutions to environmental problems. We promote respect for the public interest, and for the enforcement of state and federal laws that help safeguard this gem of the Sierra.
When all else fails, we are responsible for assuring that the rights of the public, of future generations, and of Lake Tahoe itself are shielded from actions that would harm the well being of this spectacular lake and its surrounding watershed.
In recent years, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has been unable to resist the constant pressures of developers to weaken environmental regulations. This is demonstrated in policies and decisions that conflict with the agency’s original intent and purpose of developing and maintaining environmental standards within the Tahoe Basin. The recently adopted Shorezone Ordinance is the latest example.
We oppose rules allowing for many thousands of new legally permitted buoys and 138 piers that will be detrimental to the legendary clarity and scenic beauty of the lake, as well as impede the public’s ability to use the waters of Lake Tahoe without obstruction. Unfortunately, after years of trying to persuade the TRPA to adopt a more Lake-friendly Shorezone plan, we have been left with one final option to assure protection for the lake: litigation.
The League to Save Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Club filed a joint lawsuit last November to make sure laws intended to protect the Lake’s environment are enforced. In response John Singlaub, TRPA Executive Director, has recently gone fishing for red herrings claiming that a fair court hearing would delay the establishment of the new Blue Boating Program and prevent environmental improvements.
In actuality, new regulations should have been implemented years ago. Even TRPA Governing Board Members suggested that a “mitigation first” approach would be prudent. The Blue Boating Program can stand alone as it is not financially dependent on new Shorezone development. Funds will be derived from user fees levied upon individual boaters themselves, not from the construction of new piers or buoys.
Furthermore, the TRPA should have initiated a program to remove illegal buoys decades ago instead of letting them proliferate unabated. They still do not know exactly how many illegal buoys are on the lake. TRPA estimates approximately 33 to 50 percent of the existing buoys are illegal or unauthorized. Additionally, Mr. Singlaub is concerned that the prevention of introducing quagga and zebra mussels to the lake may be hindered, whereas in truth, the suit has no impact on TRPA’s policies, practices, or funds for programs to prevent invasive species.
The TRPA has yet to achieve and maintain 75 percent of its mandated environmental goals, including water quality and air quality standards. If TRPA had been creating policies and programs truly designed to protect the lake, then there would be no need for citizens’ organizations to file a lawsuit. Unfortunately, because the TRPA is not safeguarding the natural and scenic resources of this national treasure, the time has come for others to step in and ensure protection.
The League and the Sierra Club only employ litigation as a last resort to protect the lake, when all other efforts at negotiations have failed. In fact, in the 1980s after ineffective negotiations, the League successfully challenged the TRPA in court to adopt a Regional Plan with much stronger environmental standards to adequately protect the lake. The presiding judge stated that if the ordinances TRPA approved had stood unchallenged, they would have “result[ed] in [the] deterioration of the unique environmental and ecological qualities of the region…”
We are ready and willing to ask for judicial oversight when local agencies have been captured by special interests. The citizens of this country have unique citizen enforcement powers written into our environmental laws. Everyone who cares about protecting the natural beauty of Lake Tahoe will be glad to know that watchdog organizations are on the beat, and will do our best to make sure TRPA does not leap into a murky future for our beloved lake.
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