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Lake Tahoe Seaplane Pilots Confront Closure Threat, Face Financial Hurdles

June 2, 2010

Long a premier destination for seaplanes in the Western United States, local governing bodies threaten to severely restrict seaplane access to the largest alpine lake in the Western Hemisphere. 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 operated Sikorsky S-38 Amphibians on the lake in 1934. The first scheduled airline that serviced the then-new South Lake Tahoe Airport over 50 years ago was a seaplane airline; Mike Brown operated

Mike & Lois Brown with Speedbump on the Lake Tahoe Shore

Cal-Vada Aircraft for over 30 years on the shoreline of Lake Tahoe, providing charter services, scenic tours and seaplane training. Called “Homewood Seaplane Base” on the charts, seaplane pilots just called it “Mike Brown’s” and still hold an annual Memorial Day Splash-In in his honor. See for the story.

Now that history and continued seaplane access to the shores of Lake Tahoe is imperiled by a noise ordinance proposed by the staff of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA). The TRPA is a federally chartered bi-state agency created to preserve and enhance the beauty of the Lake Tahoe Basin. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) is charged with protecting this national treasure for the benefit of current and future generations. As a part of that charge they are required to regularly update their Regional Plan, which process is underway now.

Without input from the seaplane pilots, during the local stakeholders’ meetings held to formulate the Plan Update, some concerns were reportedly expressed about noise caused by one large seaplane operation. This has resulted in a heavy-handed and bureaucratic response. The current staff proposal is to ban all seaplane operations within one mile of the shoreline (even taxi operations) and to further ban seaplane bases and docking facilities. 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.

At present, the proposal to ban seaplane operations of all types within one mile of the shore line will go to the TRPA Governing Board on June 9 to be acted upon at the June 23 Board Meeting. To be clear, the TRPA Board is not going to decide whether to enact that proposal at that time but rather whether to authorize the staff to further pursue that “solution” to the perceived “problem.”

Having learned of this threat only recently, local seaplane pilots, friends and supporters have been galvanized to respond to and deflect this challenge.  Using the strategy of communicating, educating and cooperating with the agency staff to provide a solution that meets the needs of the environment while preserving access for seaplanes, the group is attempting to get the proposal removed from the TRPA Regional Plan Update regarding Noise Goals, Policies, and Implementation Strategies prior to submission to the full TRPA Board.

A small group of pilots have a meeting scheduled meeting with TRPA Staff on June 4.  They have engaged an attorney and a noise consultant to help guide them through the process.  At this meeting, we hope to have this sledgehammer solution removed from the Staff Proposal to the TRPA Board.  Later, working with the TRPA Staff, the Lake Tahoe Seaplane Pilots plan to work towards a solution that satisfies the needs of all the stakeholders.

Given the short timeline and critical nature of the issue, a lawyer has been retained as well as a noise consultant to help guide the ad-hoc “Lake Tahoe Seaplane Pilots” group through the process.  These retainers are costly and beyond the means of individual pilots, nor should the many benefit from the contributions of a few.  As a consequence, donations will be solicited from local seaplane pilots, the public and anyone with an interest in preserving the historic access and beauty of seaplane operations on Lake Tahoe.

The Seaplane Pilots Association and the Seaplane Pilots Foundation, headquartered in Florida, is providing research and resources in support of seaplane access to Lake Tahoe within its 501(c)(3) parameters.  Tax-deductible donations to support work on the Lake Tahoe threat can be made online here or sent to the Seaplane Pilots Foundation, 3859 Laird Blvd., Lakeland, FL 33811.   On the “memo” portion of your check, please write “Lake Tahoe Fund”.  Please help preserve seaplane access to this, “The Jewel of the Sierra.”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Anderson permalink
    June 4, 2010 5:49 pm

    If You really want to encourage supporters for donations I would immediately setup a Pay Pal account, which makes it as easy and second nature as dropping coins in the charity box at 7-11 leaving the register.


  2. Chris permalink
    June 4, 2010 5:50 pm

    Whether it’s noise, or invasive species, seaplanes will come under increasing attack in the Tahoe basin. This global treasure is under growing demand for use from a diverse population, and environmental issues tend to trump all others in local dialogue.

    I certainly hope all pilots will take to heart the importance of this effort, because it’s not just about Tahoe — it’s about access to lakes and “pristine space” across California and the West.

    I believe we can overcome the noise issue, but I think the real threat to seaplane access will come in the form of invasive species control. Hopefully the effort here will create a permanent mechanism for seaplane pilots to have a voice in policymaking in the Tahoe basin.

  3. John Magish permalink
    June 5, 2010 1:07 am

    I have driven up to Lake Tahoe many times. I have riden my bicycle around lake Tahoe four times. I can tell you this proposed ban is a sham. I have listened to power boats that you can hear over four miles away come screaming across the lake at 80 mph. You can hear the boats before you can see them. You should consider the legal prospect of “equal protection under the law.” Your attorney should understand this. There are more power boats and they have a larger noise footprint than any seaplane. Under equal protection of the law it also means that a law cannot be created which singles out only certain people, activities, or organizations. If they intend to ban seaplanes then they MUST ban any and all noise producing machines, especially powerboats, oh, and noisey cars. You could do like we did certifying helicopters when I was with McDonnell Douglas, do a noise test with a power boat passing by then a seaplane. Remember, the boat comes right up to the shore also. I think that would be enlightening. This sounds like a scam created by select environmetalist to target specific activities, not noise.

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