Thursday, December 13, 2012

An End to "Trash Tahoe"? Or the Start of a New Battle?

So after a long and very contentious battle over the future of Lake Tahoe, an agreement has finally been reached over how to plan for its future.

California and Nevada reached a historic agreement over Lake Tahoe this week with the passage of an extensive plan designed to shape development at the lake for years to come.

The Tahoe Regional Planning's Governing Board approved an update to its 1987 Regional Plan by a 12-1 vote late Wednesday afternoon. California board member Mara Bresnick was the lone vote against the plan update, which has been under discussion for the better part of a decade. [...]

“The reality is we need to take the old that is not working and redesign it so it is working to the benefit of the lake,” said Douglas County Commissioner and Governing Board member Nancy McDermid during the board meeting at Harveys Lake Tahoe.

Supporters of the new agreement claim that this heralds a new era of economic growth and environmental protection for the Tahoe region. After all, the Regional Plan hasn't been updated in 25 years. And older developments by and near the lake may be more harmful to the lake with their excessive runoff reducing the lake's clarity.

However, not everyone is buying this. In fact, some environmental groups are already vowing to fight this. There may even a be a law suit brewing.

TRPA’s latest plan, approved today, delegates critical environmental protections back to local jurisdictions, leaving many to wonder if a Tahoe on development steroids will soon turn into a series of corporate resorts. Without better protections, the scenic Tahoe loved by so many will likely morph into one with more paving and less open space, new eight to ten story hotels, and mega-size recreation resorts built on acres of once-pristine lands. The result will be a murkier lake and fewer views of the mountains and the lake as local communities add three and four story buildings along the roadways.

“This plan is based on the belief that the pathway to environmental improvement is through economic development. There is definitely some merit in encouraging development to replace aging commercial buildings and parking lots. But putting all of TRPA’s eggs in that basket is too risky for the golden goose that lays those eggs—Lake Tahoe,” said Bob Anderson, Chair of the Lake Tahoe Sierra Club Group.

Wendy Park, an attorney with the public interest law firm Earthjustice, agrees that the new plan poses new and bigger risks. “Earthjustice has represented local interests and conservation groups in the past to protect the lake and regions around its shoreline from unbridled construction and development. The population of California is growing rapidly and Lake Tahoe needs stronger, not weaker, protections to stay the very special mountain lake everyone cherishes,” Park said.

Last Friday, Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller (D) stated his support for rescinding SB 271 as an agreement for a new Regional Plan has finally been reached. Perhaps the more cynically minded are thinking that it won't matter now that the damage may already be done. After all, the often omnipotent looking "gaming-mining-lobbying industrial complex" revamped SB 271 and pushed for its final passage in order to weaken environmental protection at Lake Tahoe in order to clear the way for more development. And now, it looks like they finally snatched what they wanted with the new Regional Plan.

To be fair, not all environmentalists are planning to fight this. The Nevada Conservation League has signaled it can live with the new plan.

“I think the plan is certainly a compromise,” said Kyle Davis, political director for the Nevada Conservation League. That group joined the League to Save Lake Tahoe in representing conservation interests in discussions last summer led by Nevada Conservation and Natural Resources Director Leo Drozdoff and California Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird designed to reach consensus over the hardest sticking points that had the plan at impasse at the time.

“There’s a lot we don’t like about it. There’s a lot that is an improvement,” Davis said. “I think there are enough safeguards to protect the lake but I think there is a lot more that could have been put in place for environmental gain.”

Nearly everyone was in agreement over the plan needing an update. What has been so contentious is how much more development to allow in the Tahoe region. Will the lake ultimately benefit from an "extreme makeover" of the lakeside communities that will allow for more energy efficient and less runoff producing development? Or will the lake be choked to death by the rush of real estate developers to fill every last acre of land with mega-resorts, mid-rise condos, bigger mansions & golf courses, and shopping malls?

Ultimately, time will tell where this new agreement takes Lake Tahoe. It just looks like this story hasn't ended just yet.

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