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Panel discusses balance between Tahoe economy, environment

Gregory Crofton

Tahoe has no choice but to balance the environment with the economy otherwise it’s “dead in the water,” Duane Wallace, executive director of the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, said Friday night at a community forum in the Lake Tahoe Community College Theater.

But before any environmental regulation is adopted, it’s only fair to analyze its potential economic impacts, he said.

The question for discussion was : “Can we balance the environment with the growth in our economy?”

Everyone seems to agree that if the lake doesn’t stay blue, there won’t be an economy.

“I think we have evolved, as long as there are no surprises to anyone, but the level of trust has to come back,” he told about 40 people. “Everyone has to have their interest at the table so the process can move forward. If it’s not that way, somebody is going to sue.”

Wallace was joined by John Singlaub, executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency; and Bob Richards, a scientist with the University of California, Davis Tahoe Research Group.

Singlaub said collaboration will be key to draft a 20-year plan for growth in the Lake Tahoe Basin by 2007, a task TRPA is charged with. Lawsuits plagued work on the TRPA’s first regional plan, adopted in 1987 after years of delay and a building freeze.

“We’re reaching full build out and seeing the development of more sensitive lands,” Singlaub said. “In the 2007 plan, there is a potential to see significant changes. I urge all of you to participate. Last time, we did not reach out properly so we ended up in court.”

Bryan Von Lossberg of Homewood asked Singlaub, “How do you make that process arrive at a good, constructive plan rather than one that’s least controversial?”

Singlaub said the TRPA plans to hire mediators from the Center for Collaborative Policy in Sacramento to guide the public process.

“We’re going to have technical working groups, a public participation council and a stakeholders’ advisory group of people from inside the basin and outside the basin,” Singlaub said. “Mediators in those groups will help us get to where we need to get.”

Richards takes measurements that show on average the lake is losing about 1 foot of clarity each year. He said a cultural change is needed before the environment will be able to reach an equilibrium with the economy.

“The public hasn’t really realized how much comes into the lake through stormwater runoff,” Richards said. “We really need to educate. Early estimates indicate that as much as 35 percent of the nutrient loading comes from urban-area runoff.

“A lot of people think, ‘Well, my little neighborhood doesn’t matter.’ But sediment traps and storm drains really do help in terms of the entire basin.”

Everyone agreed that if Tahoe were able to host another winter Olympics, it would be a public relations coup and an infusion of federal cash that could help Tahoe tackle big issues like transportation.

Michael Donahoe, of the Lake Tahoe Sierra Club, reminded people the goal should always be to do what’s best for the lake.

“People need to self regulate,” he said. “Too many people are letting groups like the League (To Save Lake Tahoe), the Sierra Club, the TRPA be their conscience.”

Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045; gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com