Lake Tahoe – Annual Seaplane Splash-in Threatened

Lake Tahoe Seaplane Pilots Confront Closure Threat, Face Financial Hurdles
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 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 (Editors Note: TARPA has shown its’ self serving agenda when it comes to aviation before, trying to politically influence and reduce aviation growth at South Lake Tahoe Airport TVL).

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, headquartered in Florida, is providing research and resources regarding the access and safety issues involved. They may be able to provide, through the SPA Foundation, a means to collect tax-deductible donations to support the local groups working to preserve seaplane access to this, “The Jewel of the Sierra.” Further support from the SPA is actively being sought.

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