Friday, August 05, 2005

Column 40 - Shorezone

TRPA just can’t catch a break. When they initiated the Pathway 2007 project, despite serious misgivings I wrote about at the time, I decided to lay off them and see if maybe they might be seriously committed to being more responsive, community-based, etc. The jury’s still out on that one, but I have to say that the early returns are, at least, hopeful.

The one area where I’ve always said that TRPA can and should be an important environmental force is on the clarity/purity of the Lake. The Shorezone Environmental Impact Statement has gone through a lot of revisions and has generally been presented in such a ponderous, bureaucratic form that it was hard to tell what it was really supposed to accomplish. Recently, though, Colleen Shade, a TRPA staffer, presented and discussed the latest version of the Shorezone EIS, and I think I got to understand it better.

The clarity of the Lake was TRPA’s original charge, and it seems to me that it is a particularly difficult one. Lake Tahoe is, for sure, a natural wonder. At the same time it has for many years a recreational venue. This creates a host of problems with regard to preserving the Lake’s clarity and purity, including some that have to do with the use of powered watercraft.

I love boating in any form – I’m rarely happier than when I’m on the water in a craft of some kind, whether it’s a kayak, a motorboat or a sailboat. As an environmentalist, that poses a problem for me just as does driving a car or using my fireplace. I have to find a moral middle ground between not doing any of these things that I love and sometimes need to do and doing them to the extent that I end up harming the environment. In the newest iteration of the Shorezone EIS, TRPA seems to be making a genuine effort to do the same, and some people are not going to be happy about it.

When TRPA banned two-stroke engines on watercraft in 1998 there was an outcry and people were very ready to blame anyone from Steve Wynn to manufacturing interests rather than to look seriously at what the two-strokes were doing to the lake. Now a few years later, it is clear that this action made a big difference in gasoline and exhaust pollution in the Lake.

In the new EIS, the plan is actually to increase access to the Lake for boaters by increasing the number of piers and buoys, while regulating and cleaning up the huge number of unlicensed buoys now on the lake. They plan to limit private boats’ access to Emerald Bay for fewer than 10 days a season, and some commercial boating interests are trying to cast these actions as somehow directed at them or irrelevant to the Lake’s clarity. That is just plain silly. The sellers and renters of boats and other watercraft have a responsibility to do their best to keep the Lake clear as do the rest of us. Yes, fertilizers and road sediment play a major role, but that is a separate problem and needs to be attacked alongside, not instead of the watercraft issues.

I for one support TRPA’s efforts here – certainly this makes more sense than worrying about house colors or about guard rails miles from the Lake. Let’s not let our historical exasperation with TRPA get in the way of supporting them when they are doing something right. I’m not saying we should just buy this latest EIS alternative lock, stock, and barrel, but let’s approach it in the spirit of working with TRPA to do something worthwhile and not be swayed by parochial interests or by a knee-jerk reaction to anything the comes from TRPA – get hold of the EIS (you can get it online), read it, and give TRPA your input in the spirit of partnership and the Lake we all love and cherish.

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