A 16-year ban on new piers at Lake Tahoe could be lifted under a proposal to be unveiled next year by the bistate agency charged with protecting the lake's environment.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is expected to release a draft environmental impact study on proposed shoreline regulations by March.
"It's pretty controversial," Jerry Wells, TRPA's acting director, told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "There's the landowner's side of the equation and the environmentalist's side of the equation and they don't always meet."
The agency has enforced the building ban on new piers in prime Tahoe fish habitat since 1987. The prohibition covers most of the huge Sierra lake's shoreline.
For more than a decade, TRPA has tried to craft new regulations guiding pier construction, placement of buoys and related activities.
Some property owners have called for the lifting of the ban, citing a series of studies that found piers are not detrimental to fish.
They noted the same research - ratified by a panel of experts in 1999 - found that certain kinds of piers actually help fish by providing cover from predators.
"The science is telling us piers don't have the impacts we once thought they had," Wells acknowledged.
But the debate will not only focus on piers' impacts to fish but on how they affect Tahoe's scenery, said Jan Brisco of the Tahoe Lakefront Owners Association, a property rights group.
"The scenic issue, in my opinion, will be the one big issue," Brisco said. "That will be make-or-break for a lot of property owners."
Rochelle Nason, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe environmental group, said the regulations are critical to protecting Tahoe's water quality and scenery.
"It's a very important part of the planning for the future of Lake Tahoe," Nason said. "We want to see a well-balanced plan that protects Lake Tahoe's environment while ensuring recreational opportunities."
Attorney Gregg Lien, who represents landowners who want to build new piers at their lakefront homes, said it's time to resolve the issue.
"Two-thirds of the shoreline has been under a blanket, lockdown moratorium for nearly 20 years and it's just been too long," he said.