A photo taken from Nevada Beach in Zepher Cove shows a brilliant sunset made redder by smoke from fires around the region.
A photo taken from Nevada Beach in Zepher Cove shows a brilliant sunset made redder by smoke from fires around the region.

One of the toughest issues to challenge Lake Tahoe policymakers in decades could see a resolution as those with the highest stakes in the future of its shoreline near an agreement on rules to guide activities there.

Land-use managers, environmentalists, property owners and marina operators are in the final stages of talks regarding piers, boat ramps, buoys and marinas. A vote by governors of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to enact new rules could come as soon as October.

“We’ve tried this several times over the years, and each time it faltered,” said Tom Lotshaw, TRPA spokesman.

When TRPA adopted a regional plan for the Tahoe Basin in 1987, the shoreline’s future was omitted due to disagreement among affected parties. Attempts to agree on rules guiding such issues as new pier construction followed, with TRPA adopting a new set of shoreline regulations in 2008. Environmentalists attacked the plan, saying it could harm Tahoe’s environment by encouraging an increase in boating.

The League to Save Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Club sued TRPA. In 2010, a federal judge agreed the agency had failed to safeguard the environment. An appeal was filed, and, in 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a mixed ruling that left Tahoe’s shoreline regulations in limbo. No new piers have been allowed since.

In late 2015—and in part due to a lengthy drought that lowered Tahoe’s waters and dramatically impacted piers and marinas—folks agreed it was time to try again. Stakeholders once again sat down to try hammer out new shoreline regulations.

After nearly 40 meetings, stakeholders tentatively agreed on a proposal they believe will allow new pier construction, expansion of existing marinas and other shoreline improvements. The idea is to promote public access and improve the recreational experience at Tahoe’s shoreline while still protecting a sensitive environment.

A draft environmental impact statement released in May explores four alternatives. Stakeholders’ preferred choice would allow up to 2,116 new boat moorings and 128 new private piers, with opportunities to apply for piers limited to a dozen every few years. Ten new public piers and two new public boat ramps could be built. No new marinas would be permitted but existing ones could expand, provided substantial environmental improvements occur. It would also allow more changes during droughts, including permitting buoy fields to move farther offshore and the temporary extension of piers.

“It’s not going to be everything for everyone. It’s frustrating for many and understandably so,” said Jan Brisco, director of the Tahoe Lakefront Owners Association, which represents some 1,700 owners of private lakefront properties. More than 750 of them don’t have any access to piers.

“Those properties will at least look at having a chance,” Brisco said. “We’ve needed this for some time.”

Because the plan encourages use of new piers by multiple landowners and removal of some existing piers to allow new ones, it could reduce the number of new piers over the long run, said Darcie Goodman Collins, director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe.

“Ultimately, we feel this gives long-term protection for limiting the potential for new pier development around the lake,” she said. “This version has a lot more environmental protections in place. I believe the environment is safeguarded.”

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