EPA probe to focus on Squaw Creek harm
OLYMPIC VALLEY – Computers, files, water sampling data and building plans were just a few of the almost 150 items taken from Squaw Valley Ski Corporation last week.
Close to a dozen armed special agents from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency served a warrant June 20 and searched the Opera House and the Cable Car building, both housing administrative offices.
According to the affidavit, Squaw allegedly violated the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act .
The Clean Water Act “makes it a felony to knowingly discharge a pollutant” into water of the United States. The Rivers and Harbors Act makes it a misdemeanor to remove a wetland, according to the affidavit by Julie B. Wukovits, a special agent for the EPA.
Both the Funitel and Headwall-Cornice projects are named in the affidavit as construction projects that allegedly discharged sediment and debris into Squaw Creek.
During construction of the Funitel, a high-speed, $30 million gondola project, Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board officials observed a bulldozer pushing sediment near Tower 4 of the Funitel, according to the affidavit.
“On Nov. 23, 1998, employees with the Lahontan Water Board observed and collected water samples demonstrating that during rainfall events, sediment from the sidecast material was being discharged to channels leading directly to the South Fork of Squaw Creek,” said Wukovits in the affidavit.
“I believe that Squaw Valley discharged sediment into Squaw Creek as a result of their construction activities,” said Wukovits in the affidavit.
Criminal penalties to Squaw if convicted of knowingly violating the Clean Water Act could be up to $1 million if they are found to be violating a law they have already been fined for. Squaw Creek was placed on the Impaired Waters list in September of 1999 because of excessive sediment in the creek.
“Sediment can adversely impact fish and invertebrates,” said Scott Ferguson, Lahontan unit chief, Northern watersheds.
According to Ferguson, sediment is dangerous to wildlife and fish because it can cover food sources and can change the course of a waterways.
Although Ferguson would not comment on the federal investigation of Squaw Valley, he did say there would be two-year study to determine the cause of impairment.
“Two things will be determined during the study,” Ferguson said.
One would be to asses the impact of excessive sediment and the other would be to assess macro-invertebrates or “bugs.”
The more bugs, the healthier the stream, said Ferguson.
Some of the other rivers in the area on the impaired waters list due to sediment are the Truckee River, Alpine Creek and Gray Creek.
Currently, investigators with the EPA are sorting through all of the evidence and it may be awhile before any criminal charges are filed, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento.
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