SOUTH LAKE TAHOE (AP) — A federal judge has upheld a regional plan regulating development in the scenic Lake Tahoe Basin straddling the Nevada-California line in the Sierra Nevada.
U.S. District Judge John Mendez in Sacramento ruled Monday in favor of Tahoe Regional Planning Agency regulators in a lawsuit brought by environmental groups.
Mendez said the agency acted properly when it approved the regional plan for the basin in 2012, an effort that hadn’t been updated since the late 1980s.
The Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore sued in February 2013 seeking to block implementation, arguing the plan was flawed and would pose a threat to the lake’s ecosystem.
Supporters of the plan hailed the court decision, saying it would protect the ecosystem while benefiting residents and the economy.
“This encouraging decision could not have come at a more critical time for Lake Tahoe,” Joanne Marchetta, the agency’s executive director, told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “The pace of environmental restoration will accelerate under the new plan with more opportunities for healthy, sustainable communities.”
Shelly Aldean, Carson City’s appointee to the agency’s governing board and its chairwoman, said the decision supports years of effort and carefully crafted compromises.
“To do nothing is not an option,” Aldean said. “We need to focus our time and attention on environmental redevelopment at the lake.”
Critics counter the plan will allow overly dense, too-tall development around a lake designated by Congress as deserving special protection.
“We’re disappointed in the decision,” said Wendy Park, an attorney for Earthjustice, the law firm representing the two conservation groups in their suit.
“Lake Tahoe is still recovering from too much urbanization and runoff pollution and its beautiful blue waters deserve the strongest protection to ensure a full recovery,” Park said. “Unfortunately, the court’s decision allows more urbanization, the very cause of the lake’s decline, without ensuring effective runoff controls are in place first.”
The critics also complained the plan gives too much authority to local governments in the Tahoe Basin and argue that could lead to environmentally harmful development.
But Darcie Goodman Collins, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, praised Monday’s ruling. In supporting the regional plan in 2012, the league split with the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore.
“We’re glad the case has concluded,” Goodman Collins said. “This means Tahoe’s communities can move forward with certainty about their regulatory environment over the coming decades.
She said the plan contains multiple safeguards that require restoration and environmental improvements with any new development or redevelopment.