by Andy Bourelle, Nevada Appeal News Service
STATELINE - Beachgoers on Carson City's and Washoe County's portion of Lake Tahoe will have at least another summer to park along Highway 28.
Efforts to eliminate the parking have been delayed at least beyond this summer. And because of the delays, Tahoe may lose a $500,000 federal grant that has been earmarked to pay for new parking.
"We're working with the feds to see if we can keep that," said Richard Wiggins, transportation manager for the bistate Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. "But because there's still a lack of consensus on some issues, we may not be able to.
"We're all frustrated by some of the things that have happened," he added. "But I'm not giving up."
Tahoe is losing its famed clarity by more than a foot a year, and officials say the shoulder parking on the highway is a major problem. However, the hidden beaches in the area along the highway are some of the few pristine areas where the public can get lakeshore access. Residents and visitors park along the shoulder to hike and sunbathe at nearby clothing-optional beaches.
The Forest Service, which manages the beaches, released an environmental report last year outlining how it wanted to rebuild two nearby parking lots to help offset the shoulder parking. The problem with the report was the expansion of the lots would not have provided enough spaces to offset the amount of parking that would be lost by a highway parking ban.
The environmental assessment was dismissed based on an appeal by an organization of beachgoers called Tahoe Area Naturists.
The Forest Service started over. However, both the League to Save Lake Tahoe and TRPA recently criticized the new report, which didn't address removing shoulder parking. The Forest Service has decided to scrap the report until a comprehensive East Shore Recreation Access Plan is completed, delaying work and putting into jeopardy a $500,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration that needs to be allocated by this summer.
Dave Roberts, assistant executive director of the League, said his organization has fielded criticism for its challenge of the environmental report.
However, he said, providing access to the parking lots without banning the shoulder parking would just create more use at the already overcrowded beaches.
"If the lake suffers because of this, it suffers because of poor planning," he said.
TRPA, the Forest Service and others are trying to come up with a comprehensive East Shore plan, which would address how to better provide ways for the public to get to forests and beaches between Spooner Summit and Incline Village.
The plan, which is to be completed this summer, may include building or expanding parking lots, offering shuttle services or other possibilities.
Don Lane, recreation manager for the Forest Service, said he is skeptical Tahoe would be able to use the federal funds. However, he stressed the importance of taking care of the problem.
"This is one of the last accessible shorelines in the Tahoe Basin," he said. "We have to work together so we can maintain this very special area for future access but also in a way where we won't harm the environment."
A series of public meetings to gain comment about the access plan will begin May 4 in Zephyr Cove.
East shore access plan meetings
Thursday; 4 to 7 p.m.; Lake Tahoe Branch Library, 233 Warrior Way, Zephyr Cove
May 11; 4 p.m. ; Carson City Public Library, 900 Roop Street, Carson City
May 18 at a Reno location yet to be announced