Residents rail against avalanche ops, increased traffic with Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows gondola project | SierraSun.com

Residents rail against avalanche ops, increased traffic with Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows gondola project

Hannah Jones
hjones@sierrasun.com

Placer County is accepting comments from the public concerning the proposed construction of the Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows base-to-base gondola project and its impacts on the environment and local homeowners, with noise and traffic concerns dominating the discussion.

At a recent public hearing, Alpine Meadows residents brought forth concerns of the increased disruption caused by additional Gazex avalanche exploders that would be installed if the project were approved.

"Anyone here who lives in Alpine Meadows who experienced the first Gazex blast, knows it was a terrifying event," said Craig Hamilton, Alpine Meadows resident. "It sounds like a bomb going off."

Hamilton said he "loved the idea of a gondola," but was concerned about having more machinery necessary for its operation so close to his house.

Melissa Siig, a 14-year homeowner in Alpine Meadows, said she was also concerned about the noise additional Gazex machines would create.

"People hear it throughout the entire valley," she said. "It's 10 to 20 times stronger than an actual avalanche bomb."

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Siig also stated her concern over the project's close proximity to the Five Lakes Trail, which she often hikes, and the environmental and visual impacts it may have on the land.

"I don't think more is necessarily better," said Mary Coolidge, who has lived in Alpine Meadows on and off since 1971. She voiced her concerns over the visual impact of the gondola stating that she'd be able to see it from her living room, as well as increased traffic in the area. "We already have a horrendous traffic issue," she said.

Coolidge said that during peak operating times it can take her up to an hour just to get from her home in Alpine Meadows to Squaw Valley where she works.

"I'm concerned that once the gondola is built it's going to be a permanent development," said Jeff Shellito. "You have to consider how often this gondola will be running if we have a winter like last winter."

Shellito also voiced his concern for the project's close proximity to the Granite Chief wilderness area saying that the reason the area was pushed for wilderness was to stop logging as well as the "encroachment of developers in Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows."

According to the Squaw Valley website, by combining 6,000 acres of terrain from both mountains, the gondola would provide easier access to both resorts without the use of a car or shuttle bus. As the proposed path of the chair line will run adjacent to the Granite Chief Wilderness Area, the U.S. Forest Service required an environmental impact report to be drafted for the project.

The report outlines four possible actions to be taken with the project. The impact report concluded that the fourth alternative would be the most "environmentally preferable" as it occupies the least amount of land. It would measure 11,700 feet with 2,300 feet over NFS land and 33 towers. Each proposed gondola route requires two base terminals and two mid-stations with 8 Gazex avalanche exploders.

"The Gazex issue has emerged in the last couple weeks," said Heather Beckman, a Placer County senior planner. "It's definitely something we'll be researching and looking into more, and I'm sure we'll adjust in the final document."

The 45-day public comment period for the draft statement and report began April 27 and closes on June 11. Once the public comment period is closed the county project team must evaluate all the comments and respond before the county can release a final Environmental Impact Report and the project can go through two public hearings.

For the project to move forward it must receive approval from both Placer County and the United States Forest Service.

Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at 530-550-2652 or hjones@sierrasun.com.

HOW TO BE HEARD

The 45-day public comment period for the draft statement and report on Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows’ gondola project began April 27 and closes on June 11. Once the public comment period is closed the county project team must evaluate all the comments and respond before the county can release a final Environmental Impact Report and the project can go through two public hearings.

Send comments on the Draft EIS/EIS before 5 p.m. June 11 to the following:

Email: cdraecs@placer.ca.gov

Fax: 530-745-3080

Mail: Community Development Resource Agency

Environmental Coordination Services

3091 County Center Drive

Auburn, CA 95631

All comments received by Placer County during the 45-day public comment period will be shared with the Forest Service and responded to in the Final EIS/EIR, and vice versa. Therefore, it is not necessary to send your comments to both agencies.