By Joanne S. Marchetta

Joanne S. Marchetta

While it still feels like winter, with a healthy snowpack and ski resorts reporting record monthly snowfall in February, another building season is fast approaching. One of the questions people ask the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency each year is why they have to pay mitigation fees for their development, like new homes and remodeling projects.

We all know Lake Tahoe’s pristine environment and spectacular natural resources are what make it special. To protect Tahoe’s special qualities means we must each play our part to protect its resources. Development impact fees, common everywhere, take on special importance because they are how we give back to the place we love and enjoy.

Here at Lake Tahoe, as part of the historic compromises over managing development in the basin, stakeholders agreed that fees collected by TRPA should go toward air and water quality to help offset the impact of development projects on the environment. These fees do not pay for TRPA staff or agency operations. Instead, the fees provide a steady funding source for local governments to pay for a wide range of projects needed to protect and restore Lake Tahoe’s environment.

Since 2015, TRPA has released nearly $3.5 million in mitigation fee revenue to local governments. In 2018, the agency released more than $1.2 million in mitigation fee revenue to contribute to local projects that will improve air and water quality and prevent soil and pollutant runoff into the lake.

Douglas, El Dorado, and Washoe counties are using money from the fees to help buy new street sweepers, expensive equipment needed to keep Tahoe’s roadways clean. Street sweeping helps keep fine sediment particles from washing off urban areas and roads into Lake Tahoe. This work is important because polluted stormwater harms the famous lake clarity that partners around Tahoe are working to restore to its historic levels.

Washoe County is using more than $600,000 to improve water quality in Lower Wood Creek, a tributary that flows into Lake Tahoe. The project will reduce soil erosion, treat stormwater before it reaches the creek, stabilize road shoulders, and upgrade failing culverts. The county will also use $35,000 to restore a failing retaining wall on Beowawie Road in Crystal Bay to prevent soil eroding into the lake.

Placer County is using $230,000 from the mitigation fees to help buy a new bus for the Tahoe Truckee Area Regional Transit service. More frequent and reliable transit service is critical as local, state, and federal partners work to reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality, and make it easier for residents and visitors to travel in the Tahoe Region without driving personal vehicles.

South Lake Tahoe is using $300,000 to improve the Lower Bijou Park Creek, an area that suffers from significant flooding and currently discharges polluted stormwater runoff directly into Ski Run Marina. The project will improve water quality, reduce flooding, and restore environmentally-sensitive stream areas, complementing stormwater reduction measures that a property owner is installing to redevelop the former Knights Inn site for a holistic solution to water quality and flooding issues in this area.

El Dorado County is using $60,000 for the San Bernardino Bike Trail. The separated Class 1 path will run about one-third of a mile between West San Bernardino and East San Bernardino avenues for better bike and pedestrian access to Washoe Meadows State Park, Tahoe Paradise Park, and Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School. El Dorado County is also using $50,000 to help plan the Meyers Corridor Operational Improvement Project. In coming years, this project will deliver safer intersections, lighting, signage, and landscaping along Highway 50 and state Route 89.

These air quality, water quality, and coverage mitigation fees have invested tens of millions of dollars into restoring Lake Tahoe’s environment and improving local communities over the years. The fees help ensure new development projects are offsetting their environmental impacts throughout the Tahoe Region and provide local governments with funding needed to meet regional goals for a healthier natural environment at Tahoe. Every community around the lake has benefitted from this work to protect and improve the natural environment and quality of life that keeps Tahoe such a special place to live, work, and play.

Joanne S. Marchetta is executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.