My Turn: Shorezone Plan: Truth or compromise?
The upcoming vote on the Shorezone Plan is one of the most important votes in nearly 20 years according to the TRPA. Serious interest focuses on the roots, the source documents, underlying principles, the facts revealed by current science, and the integrity of the public process. A guest column (There ought to be an oath Sierra Sun Jan. 29, 2007) discussed how TRPA board members should take an oath of office to publicly reaffirm their commitment to acting in the public interest. Another guest column (Shorezone is a litmus test for TRPA Sierra Sun Feb. 5, 2007) cautions the board on perceived implications of their decision by 35,000 Basin homeowners and land owners, and encourages the board to set their priorities on protecting our national treasure. Are we progressing deliberately toward general changes that best reflect the truth, or are we offering a clever middle course of political compromise on this one issue?One statement from TRPA resonates with universal agreement: The Shorezone is a fragile part of our overall ecosystem, arguably the most sensitive part. How well the shoreline and shallow water is protected suggests a relative level of protection from all other sources of declining clarity. How to return the lake to the clarity standard (Secchi) of 100 feet goes right to the original documents of the Bi-State Compact. The TRPA is to establish environmental threshold capacities, adopt and enforce a plan and ordinances that will achieve and maintain such capacities while providing opportunities for orderly growth and development. The official position of the TRPA is that this process is slow, and after a low of 64 feet in 1997, the clarity has improved to 72 feet today. So the rationale assumes their plan and ordinance measures have worked. We have turned the corner on clarity, and some liberalization of development is reasonable. According to the TRPA, scientific studies showed a neutral impact on fish from pier construction, therefore our current ban has no legal basis. However, other measures of nitrogen, phosphorous, or fine particles in the Shorezone during this ban could not reflect the consequences of constructing 176 new piers and two marina expansions on the North Shore allowed under the proposed Plan Alternative 6A. Another principle in the Compact is to ensure an equilibrium between the regions natural endowment and its manmade environment. The Shorezone is not the only manmade environment. Most property in the manmade environment is in less sensitive parts of the ecosystem, where land disturbance has less impact on the lake. A fertilized lakefront lawn causes much more impact than a lawn three miles from the lake. The justification to institute the Bailey Land classification and Commercial Floor Area allocations was a political movement aimed at stopping the uncontrolled development inertia of the 70s and 80s. While that effort generally succeeded, the unintended consequences haunt us today. The homeowner wanting to add a deck to his home finds he doesnt have the available coverage. A resident living three miles from the lake, who simply wants a water feature in his backyard, is threatened by TRPA with a $50,000 fine so he pays to have it removed because the rocks create too much coverage. Where is the sense of equity when the whole town of Kings Beach continues to deteriorate because property owners and investors are unwilling to redevelop within the absurd, not scientifically based constraints of the current regulations. The new science evolving over the past 20 years more accurately pinpoints nutrient loads and relative contributions. If current science is one of the justifications for the Shorezone Plan, then science should also inform and correct the application of Bailey and Commercial allocations, especially in redevelopment areas with significant blight. Lakefront owners comprise the wealthiest demographic in Tahoe, and are capable of financing a formidable legal campaign. If the science enables pier and marina expansion, how can the science support the current regulations that hinder 35,000 small off-shore property owners and continue to destroy the economic vitality of so many areas. If the pendulum of clarity has begun to swing back, then lakefront owners should not be the only ones to benefit. David McClure is a Tahoe Vista resident.