Can Lake Tahoe Stay Blue—and Get Smart?

Laketahoe_map_flckr_boklmPhoto: Flickr/Boklm

Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that an expansion plan for Homewood Mountain Resort on the shores of Lake Tahoe would not be allowed to move forward without further considering a scaled-back alternative with less environmental impact. The Sierra Club, which joined with a local environmental group and Earthjustice to bring the suit against the resort, is calling the decision a victory. But so is Tahoe's regional planning agency, because, it says, at least the judge did not say the environmental review was flawed.

This is the latest in a decades-long battle over how to best protect the awe-inspiring resources in the Lake Tahoe basin through thoughtful planning and management practices—something that had been absent until a 1987 plan aimed to reverse unchecked development.

On December 12, after years of roadblocks and revisions, a new regional plan framework—focused on bringing more mixed-use development into town centers around the lake and improving the area's transportation system—was approved. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), a collaborative California-Nevada agency charged with managing and improving the environmental health of the Lake Tahoe basin, is now set to begin implementation of the plan on February 11. But the Tahoe Area Sierra Club is considering erecting one more roadblock: a lawsuit to stop the plan, which it says is focused on tourism dollars rather than the lake's health.

The controversy raises a question pertinent not just to the Tahoe region but to mountain communities everywhere: What does "smart growth" look like in an alpine environment?

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