Steve Mokrohisky: New plans for Tahoe won’t harm environment

The future of Lake Tahoe’s built environment and how to protect its pristine waters has been debated at length. The conclusion of thousands of people who participated in the Tahoe regional plan update is that the status quo is unacceptable and that improving the environment, economy and community through redevelopment is imperative.

On Aug. 28, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency will consider approval of Douglas County’s local-area plan for the South Shore. The new plan was created through extensive public engagement and encourages environmental redevelopment.

As the first entity to propose a new local-area plan, Douglas County has been held to the highest standard of environmental review and has welcomed the opportunity to engage in thoughtful dialogue about the future of Lake Tahoe.

Despite broad public support and clear data detailing the environmental benefits of the new plan, a representative from the Sierra Club stated recently that “local governments can’t be trusted to hold the line on development.” Unfortunately, statements like this ignore the facts and offer no solutions to improve the environment. In the interest of thoughtful public debate, let us consider the facts.

Douglas County has a strong record of environmental stewardship, including more than 31 water-quality projects at Lake Tahoe. Eighteen percent of Lake Tahoe’s shoreline resides in Douglas County, but only 3 percent of the runoff material that degrades the clarity of the Lake originates here — the least amount of any jurisdiction in the Tahoe Basin. Douglas County has some of the highest Best Management Practice compliance in Tahoe.

Beyond Lake Tahoe, more than 15,000 acres have been protected in Carson Valley and 15,000 acres more could be protected from our federal lands bill. There is no agency requiring us to protect the environment, but rather our community chooses environmental stewardship as the right thing to do for future generations.

Most future projects at Lake Tahoe will be redevelopment, not new development. There is very little private land to build on at Lake Tahoe, as only 16 percent is private, eight residential units are allowed this year and 36,250 square feet is available for commercial projects in Douglas County. Lodging industry experts remind us that we have thousands of tourist units with an average rate of less than $100 and 28 percent occupancy. Many of these units should be relocated or retired, thereby reducing the quantity and improving the quality.

Too much of the built environment has outlived its useful life, harming the natural environment. Private investment in redevelopment will allow property owners to increase energy efficiency and reduce stormwater runoff.

The Edgewood Lodge project is an example of private investment that will improve the environment by preventing 500,000 pounds of runoff per year from entering Lake Tahoe and restore numerous acres of wetlands, while increasing economic vitality.

Thousands of people are unified in pursuing environmental redevelopment at Lake Tahoe. We recognize that thoughtful public debate supported by facts is at the cornerstone of our democracy. So, when you hear someone claim that the new plans for Tahoe will result in harm to the environment, ask them for facts to support their claim and solutions to improve the environment, economy and community. Those of us who live, work and play in Douglas County are committed to keeping Lake Tahoe blue by turning our community green.

Steve Mokrohisky is the county manager for Douglas County.


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