Opinion: Squaw Valley should downsize village development proposal
August 17, 2015
The comment period for the draft Environmental Impact Report on the proposed Village at Squaw Valley is over, and the community has spoken. In all, 340 out of 345 responses were negative on one or more of the project's environmental impacts.
The Friends of Squaw Valley thanks everyone who took the time to comment. Whether your letter was one or several pages, each demonstrates to the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors that the community is intensely interested in the project.
With this article, FoSV is summarizing the two most common elements of the responses (yes, we read them all), and some of the details included. In subsequent letters, we intend to provide more specifics on these and other topics.
It is important to remember that the draft Environmental Impact Report is at the very heart of CEQA, and it is designed to inform decision makers and the public about the potential, significant environmental impacts of a project.
CEQA requires public agencies to identify ways that environmental damage can be avoided or significantly reduced, and failure to do so or improper preparation of the dEIR requires that the project be altered and/or the dEIR be reissued.
The two most common themes in the comment letters were the variety of impacts on both traffic and water:
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CEQA requires that the "traffic volume should represent the peak average winter ski conditions." The winter of 2011-12 was anything but average, with snowfall records showing almost no snow through the Christmas/New Year and MLK holidays. If the determined peak traffic was low, then all subsequent impact conclusions (such as noise and pollution) were therefore also low.
Some pointed out that the traffic study focused on winter, when summer, which was not analyzed, is forecast to have greater traffic.
The CA Department of Transportation felt that reducing congestion on Highway 89 intersections should be a condition for approval.
The town of Truckee expressed concerns about worsening congestion on Highway 89 between West River and Deerfield.
Squaw Valley Lodge residents pointed out that the Squaw Valley Rd — Squaw Peak Rd intersection was not included in the analysis, yet it is a known, congested, and potentially dangerous intersection. Others commented that the intersection at Christy and Squaw Valley Rd, where many residents who live in the adjacent neighborhood and cross on foot, was abandoned and the Level of Service allowed to drop from C to F.
Residents of Alpine Meadows voiced concern that the increased Highway 89 traffic would create congestion in their neighborhoods.
And, many expressed concerns that triple-laning Squaw Valley Road is a disaster waiting to happen. It is dangerous today, and it is not likely to improve in the future.
Both hydrologists and locals continue to seriously question the adequacy of the water supply:
The dEIR admitted that the ongoing California drought "may produce a more severe multiple year drought than any within the available historical dataset or model study period" (p. 14-35). Many believe the analysis is flawed because extreme drought years and conditions were not included.
Others cited that the dEIR only provides for a "will-serve agreement" at a later date (mitigation measure 14-1c) and that verification of the availability of water supplies will happen only after the EIR is certified (mitigation measure 14-1b).
Still others point to the fact that incorrect data for precipitation in the valley were used, that the duration of time when the creek will be dry will increase, that the groundwater model minimizes the pumping impact by spreading the pumping over more wells than are proposed to be constructed, and that the projected demand for water is too low because it was based on very low occupancies during the 2009-2011 recession period.
Moreover, many are especially concerned that the fractional homes are proposed to be built over land that is crucial to aquifer recharge.
In light of all the impacts and lack of viable mitigations, most felt that the best course of action was to downsize the project. The alternative chapter suggested a 50 percent reduction be analyzed, but considering the traffic and water impacts alone, the FoSV is not suggesting any specific percentage, but rather a downsizing that brings these impacts into a "less than significant" range.
Dr. Jon Shanser is an Olympic Valley resident and a founding member of The Friends of Squaw Valley. He may be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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