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Proposed Noise Ordinance Could Close Lake Tahoe to Seaplane Operations

June 3, 2010 Long a premier destination for seaplanes in the Western United States, local governing bodies threaten to severely restrict seaplane access to Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in the Western Hemisphere. A federally chartered regional planning agency has proposed a noise ordinance that would prohibit any seaplane operations within one mile of the shoreline in a bid to protect the serenity of the lake. 

Bisected by the California-Nevada border, Lake Tahoe, often called “The Jewel of the Sierra,” is 6200 feet above sea level, 24 miles long, 12 miles wide and the second deepest lake in North America. Seaplanes have been operating there for at least 75 years since Lake Tahoe Airways started operating Sikorsky S-38 Amphibians on the lake in 1934. Since then, other longtime commercial seaplane airlines and operations have flourished on Lake Tahoe.

Governing the lake is the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) which is a federally chartered bi-state agency created to preserve and enhance the beauty of the Lake Tahoe Basin. Currently, the agency is updating its regional plan for the lake and the proposed noise ordinance would severely restrict private and commercial seaplane operations on the lake

The ad-hoc group “Lake Tahoe Seaplane Pilots” contends that they were not consulted when the TRPA staff drafted the proposal which, in its current form, bans all seaplane operations within one mile of the shoreline (even taxi operations) and to further ban seaplane bases and docking facilities.

Local seaplane pilot Aaron Zeff, EAA 642845, argued in a summary of the issue he sent to EAA that “Given that seaplane operations are already quite rare on Lake Tahoe, further limited by nature to those days when the winds and waves permit landing on the lake, the seaplanes’ overall impact upon the serenity of the Lake Tahoe experience is far less than that of any other motorized recreational user. To ban this one recreational use while continuing to allow all other motorized uses seems both discriminatory and overly punitive; as if using a sledgehammer to swat a gnat.”

The “Lake Tahoe  Seaplane Pilots” will meet with the TRPA on June 4 to provide their prospective and have been receiving support from the Seaplane Pilots Association (SPA), headquartered in Florida. The Seaplane Pilots Association is providing research and resources regarding the access and safety issues involved. The Tohoe group has also retained a lawyer to help them wade through the legal issues as well as a noise consultant.

The effort has been costly and the group has set up a process to collect tax-deductible donations through the SPA Foundation to fund the effort against the ordinance. The proposed ordinance will be submitted to the TRPA Governing Board on June 9 with action on the proposal  to be taken up at the June 23 board meeting.

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