By ROBERT HEINZ  |  North Shore

I lived through a wildfire. It was horrific in every sense of the word. That experience, along with daily reports of drought-induced wildfires raging throughout the West, compels me to express some concerns about local evacuation options when the inevitable major wildfire breaks out in the Tahoe Basin. How will residents and tourists get to safety?

Tahoe City and the West Shore are already at or near capacity with summer traffic that routinely gridlocks for a mile or more on highways 28 and 89. Weekday construction traffic entering and leaving Martis Camp backs up Hwy. 267 for miles, morning and evening. Kings Beach has experienced ever-growing congestion for years, but it has recently worsened with the narrow, single lane roads in each direction, no pedestrian control, and roundabout “improvements.”

Now, imagine the additional impact of the proposed ridgeline projects comprised of the 550-site Brockway Campground, 760-home Martis Valley West Project, and acres of commercial amenities. These new developments, with 25-year building permits, would run parallel to, and be accessed from, Hwy. 267.  

There would be hundreds of additional cars and RVs — some towing boats and other toys — logging trucks, and construction vehicles up and down Hwy. 267 on a daily basis, congesting traffic for miles in any direction. Can anyone reasonably argue or defend the likelihood of something other than a gridlocked death trap within the Basin and along Hwy. 267 during an emergency evacuation?   

Recently, on Southern California’s I-15 Freeway, dozens of vehicles were overtaken and trapped by a fast-moving wildfire. Drivers and passengers were forced to abandon their vehicles and run for their lives. If this occurred on a four-lane freeway during routine traffic conditions, imagine what Hwy. 267 would look like with thousands of residents and visitors attempting to flee to safety.

There are many issues that I find disconcerting about these two developments in addition to the assured traffic congestion/public safety issues they will create. What about the added exhaust pollution trapped in the Basin, and the resulting impact on the health of our residents, the lake, and forests?  Where will the water come from to support these developments, and how will it affect the quality of water provided by local utilities in the Basin? Which agency will provide first responder services to a new “Kings Beach-sized” community far from existing infrastructure? Will this be only the first ridgetop development to push its way into the Tahoe Basin, forever destroying our unspoiled ridgelines and our uncompromised nighttime celestial views? The list is endless.

Landowners have a limited right to find the highest and best use of their land. Conversely, as a check and balance, citizens’ elected or appointed representatives need to exercise their moral and ethical responsibility to protect and safeguard their communities and constituents in order to maintain a balance for the common good. As citizens, we must be observant and informed in order to effectively participate and protect our rights, our environment, our community, and our treasured Lake Tahoe.

I’ve been in a 100,000 plus acre wildfire and can attest firsthand that few things go according to plan, especially evacuations. Many lives are at risk if North Shore residents and visitors simply can’t get to safety. I’ve yet to hear any sound arguments to convince me that the two ridgeline developments, and the hundreds of additional vehicles they will assuredly bring, will do anything but jeopardize public safety.

~ Robert Heinz is a retired realtor/investor and 18-year North Shore resident.