Heavy criticism into massive Tahoe-area ski expansion proposal continues | SierraSun.com

Heavy criticism into massive Tahoe-area ski expansion proposal continues

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com

OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — Amid future environmental concerns for the Lake Tahoe region, residents are calling for another scale-downed version of the multi-acre development proposal for the Village at Squaw Valley.

"The only mistake that can be made is to allow too many bedrooms or too much development, because that can never be fixed," said Olympic Valley resident Bob Barnett, who is a member of the Friends of Squaw Valley. "If you go smaller, that can always be remedied later on. Once it's too big, the environmental impacts never stop."

He was one of nearly 20 people who spoke at last Thursday's public hearing in Kings Beach on the draft environmental impact report for the project before the Placer County Planning Commission.

Released in mid-May, the draft EIR analyzes several project alternatives, including a reduced density option that would downsize overall the project size — i.e. unit count, commercial square footage, employee housing and parking — by 50 percent.

“Simply put, Squaw Valley North Lake Tahoe deserves better than the gridlock traffic, urbanization, noise, environmental and cultural degradation promised by this proposal.”Isaac SilvermanAttorney for Sierra Watch

Of the action alternatives, the reduced density option was found to be environmentally superior.

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"Such an alternative may not address all the project's objections, but finding the balance between development and acceptable mitigation impacts should be the overriding consideration," said Jerry Riessen, a 30-year Olympic Valley homeowner and member of the Friends of Squaw Valley. "Unavoidable impacts to Squaw Valley are unacceptable."

AREAS OF FOCUS

The draft EIR identifies 23 "significant and unavoidable" environmental impacts in the following areas: cultural resources, visual resources, transportation and circulation, noise, greenhouse gases and climate change, and cumulative impacts.

"There's been a lot of focus in the community once this document came out on the number of significant unavoidable impacts," said Chevis Hosea, vice president of development for Squaw Valley Ski Holdings and Squaw Valley Real Estate, at Thursday's hearing before a 100-plus-person crowd. "We'd like you to focus on the specificity of the document on each of the areas and see why some of these are significant and unavoidable.

"Sometimes, it's one particular event on a particular peak day that might be causing that (impact)."

Alex Fisch, Placer County senior planner, echoed that when providing an overview of the unavoidable traffic impacts.

"It's important to note what the results of the analysis characterize are conditions that are representative of peak hour conditions during peak season on a peak day, and these are not daily operational conditions," he said. "They would occur on a limited basis."

Despite that, all members of the public who spoke at Thursday's hearing criticized the project, voicing concerns such as traffic and safety, light pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and economic impacts due to construction.

"Simply put, Squaw Valley North Lake Tahoe deserves better than the gridlock traffic, urbanization, noise, environmental and cultural degradation promised by this proposal," said Isaac Silverman, a staff lawyer for Sierra Watch, which opposes the project.

TOO BIG FOR TAHOE?

The Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan outlines construction of up to 850 lodging units, with a maximum of 1,493 bedrooms; nearly 300,000 square feet of tourist-serving commercial space, while decommissioning about 92,000 square feet of existing commercial space; and a 90,000-square-foot Mountain Adventure Camp for indoor and outdoor recreation.

Additional parking spaces, construction of up to 50 employee housing units and restoration of Squaw Creek also are proposed.

"The bottom line that we see from this EIR is that it shows that this development on this scale, this scope and this size is just incompatible with a small fragile alpine valley like Squaw Valley, and frankly, for the whole region of North Lake Tahoe," Silverman said.

This latest proposal is a scaled-down plan from previous versions, including fewer bedrooms and lodging units, shorter building heights, a smaller Mountain Adventure Camp, and less overall project acreage.

"The most sensitive thing that we've done in terms of the environment for this project is reduce it by 50 percent over the last three years," Hosea said.

Squaw hopes to develop a year-round destination resort that is on par with other world-class North American ski destinations.

"Change may be inevitable when progress is desired, but these concepts don't have to be synonymous with construction, expansion and encroachment," said Olympic Valley resident David Naughton.

According to the draft EIR, while the reduced density alternative would either reduce or avoid several significant environmental impacts, it would not meet a number of project objectives.

As proposed, project buildout is estimated to take 25 years — which factors in basin construction regulations and market cycles — with construction proposed to begin as early as spring 2016, if approved.

How to comment

Comments should be mailed to Placer County Community Development Resource Agency, Environmental Coordination Services, 3091 County Center Drive, Suite 190, Auburn, CA 95603, Attention: Maywan Krach; faxed to 530-745-3080; or emailed to cdraecs@placer.ca.gov.

The deadline for public comment is 5 p.m. July 17. After that deadline, Placer County will work to incorporate public feedback into a final environmental impact report, to be released for public review at a to-be-determined date.

Click here to learn more and view the draft EIR.

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