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Lake Tahoe: Judge strikes down rules for new piers, ramps and buoys

September 16, 2010 | 10:21 pm

Lake tahoe
A federal judge on Thursday struck down regulations allowing new buoys, piers and boat ramps around Lake Tahoe, saying a regulatory agency did not go far enough to make sure the environmental quality of the lake would be protected.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton of Sacramento, in his 66-page ruling, handed two environmental groups a victory by sending the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's "shorezone" regulations back to the drawing board.

The League to Save Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Club sued after the agency in October 2008 approved regulations allowing 1,862 new buoys, 138 new piers, six new boat ramps and 235 new boat slips around the nation's second-deepest lake. The groups contend that the agency didn't properly review environmental impacts before adopting the plan.

Wendy Park, an Earthjustice attorney who represents the groups, hailed the ruling, saying the new facilities would have contributed to more pollution from boats and reduced the clarity of the scenic Sierra Nevada lake straddling the California-Nevada border.

“We're very pleased. This is a very significant ruling for Lake Tahoe,” she told the Associated Press. “This decision forces TRPA to make sure they actually take their duty to protect and restore the lake into account when they're adopting new major development.”

Agency officials said they were unsure whether the ruling would be appealed. “We struggled for 22 years to find middle ground on the polarizing shorezone issue and we're disappointed to be back where we started,” Joanne S. Marchetta, TRPA's executive director, said in a statement. “Achieving a balance between our spectacular environment and private property rights is extraordinarily challenging.”

The shorezone regulations were more protective than previous ordinances, agency officials said. They were designed to better manage the existing 768 piers and 4,500 buoys on the lake while capping future development.

Karlton said the agency was not complying with its duty to protect the lake, and would need to show its  regulations would further its goal of restoring the lake to its former clarity. Tahoe's clarity has diminished about 30 percent since one could see more than 100 feet into the lake's depths in the late 1960s.

“This ruling forces the agency to take very seriously its obligation to restore the lake to its former clarity levels,” Park said, adding that TRPA also must address concerns over air and noise pollution.

Agency spokesman Dennis Oliver said legal counsel was reviewing the ruling to determine the agency's response. “It puts us back to square one for something that took us 22 years to get straightened out,” he said. “We don't know what we're going to do yet.”

-- Martin Griffith / Associated Press

Photo: A kayaker on Lake Tahoe.  Credit: Stephen Osman / Los Angeles Times