Saturday, April 02, 2011
Bonanza Column 230 - We Can't Afford to Lose TRPA
There are certain things that, if they’re not examined too closely, seem to make people look smart. Go up to a stranger and say something like “I don’t know what it is, but I have a sense you are troubled about money” and you’ll be right better than 4 times out of 5. Around here, bashing TRPA will have the same result – everyone will have a good laugh, and you’ll be considered pretty smart, if no one thinks about it too much.
In better than 15 years that I’ve lived here, TRPA has been a consistent whipping boy. People who willingly sign agreements with their HOA that restrict everything from where they put their trash to what kind of fence they can have bristle when TRPA has the temerity to suggest that a bright red roof or a bright blue house might detract from the scenic quality of the area.
Don’t get me wrong – TRPA has, historically, done some really dumb things. I really don’t think the color of the guard rails on Route 267 over Brockway Summit have much impact on scenic quality, and there have been other bonehead moves. From time to time any agency can get a bit intoxicated with its own authority and have to be reined in, but the “I don’t want any government except where I say they should be” types – the ones who say they want the government to stay out of their Medicare (sic) pick up on the occasional gaffe and use those to try to discredit all the work the agency does.
During the tenure of John Singlaub and particularly under the tenure of the current Executive Director Joanne Marchetta, the TRPA staff and Governing Board have worked very hard to keep the agency focused on its primary mission of protecting the environment and the scenic quality of the Basin. Reasonable minds can differ on the interpretation of the scope of this mission, but most of the foolishness of past administrations has been stopped. The Agency has been particularly effective in holding the line against Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS), to the point where they have been able, through aggressive boat inspection and anti-AIS programs in the water, to keep Tahoe from being overrun by these the way, for example, Lake Mead has been. A study by the Army Corps of Engineers put the potential economic impact of AIS in the region at $22 million a year in lost recreation, tourism, property values, and increased maintenance costs.
Now a group of these knee-jerk anti-regulation types are trying to get the Nevada Senate to pass a bill, SB 271, that would pull the state out of the TRPA compact, leaving the environment of the lake and the basin at the mercy of California and the Federal Government. Their rationale for this is that the agency has gone beyond its mandate and interferes with decisions people make on their property.
As I said, TRPA has, from time to time, gone overboard in its interpretation of its mission. Director Marchetta has been forthcoming in taking responsibility for past errors and has been clear about her intention to prevent what could be seen as abuses. At the same time, what about all the good the Agency does – who will inspect boats this summer if SB 271 passes? Predictably Tahoe will go the way of Lake Mead and we will all be hurt.
To the best of its ability, TRPA makes decisions and choices based on what will benefit the whole region. Inevitably these decisions will, from time to time, tread on the toes of what some individual wants to do. It looks to me like there are a couple of things the people advocating SB 271 don’t seem to get. First, no one’s home, property, or business is isolated from the rest of us – in any community, in any environmental system, decisions the good of the many may need to outweigh the wishes of a few. If you don’t like that, you should find someplace where you are can live apart from everyone else – and good luck with that. Secondly, there is such a thing as genuine scientific expertise that my conflict with what you think you know and with what you want. I'm told that, counter-intuitive as it might be, leaving a certain amount of pine needles on the ground, because they absorb and hold water, is a better fire preventive than getting rid of all of them. OK, assuming that there is some scientific authority behind that, that’s a better thing than what I would do.
We can’t afford to let a group of people who think their political ideology and short-sighted opinions and interests are more important than the good of the rest of us and the health of a lake that belongs to us all. Let your State Senator know.