Friends of Olympic Valley concerned with revised Palisades Tahoe plan (Opinion)
Palisades Tahoe has submitted a Draft Revised Environmental Impact Report for the Village at Palisades Tahoe. The revised plan includes the same number of beds and buildings, a structured parking garage and a large Mountain Adventure Camp (aka water park). The Placer County Planning Commission is accepting public comment until Jan. 30.
We, the Friends of Olympic Valley, remain concerned over the scale and size of the development.
In the now circulating Revised EIR, Palisades Tahoe intends only to address issues raised by the Appellate Court. Palisades Tahoe mistakenly states “no new information or new circumstances exist that would warrant a complete revision of the original EIR.”
We strongly disagree and contend there are severe environmental, social, and economic issues that clearly warrant a completely new EIR review.
Drought — California is now in a four-year drought that not only increases the risk of controlling wildfires but is putting our entire drinking water supply at risk. Climate change has fundamentally altered our state’s hydrologic system, intensified extreme weather, and is leading to longer, drier periods.
While the time period used to calculate future aquifer levels in the 2015 Water Supply Assessment included the years 2012 through 2014, the WSA did not include the most recent years (2016 – 2022) which include some of the worst drought years, and which better reflect the current state of climate change.
Furthermore, the 2015 Water Supply Assessment that was used in the original EIR only looked backwards at historical use of and demand for water. Since that study was done, California law now allows the assessment of future climate change effects in determining water supply and for consideration of rising temperatures and the possibility of more severe drought conditions than in the past. The Olympic Valley PSD and Placer County should require an updated WSA with this additional forward-looking analysis.
Water Supply — It is important to note that there is only one aquifer within the valley that supplies all our water needs. In the original village EIR the developer assumed that the Olympic Valley Public Service District was actively searching for an alternative water supply. This search proved unsuccessful. Placer County should demand that this issue of a redundant water supply be revisited in a new EIR.
The aquifer in the western part of Olympic Valley is the main source of potable water and is quite shallow, being no more than 18 feet deep. Because of climate change, higher temperatures, and reduced snowpack (leading to more rain than snow than in the past), we will be at increased risk of water shortage earlier in the season, typically late summer/early fall (peak wildfire season).
In addition, because of accelerating climate changes, realistic consumptive water use of the Mountain Adventure Camp in original EIR should be also addressed in a new EIR. Since there are no detailed plans on what interior structures will be installed in the camp, it is impossible to know exact water usage (estimated to exceed 20,000 gallons of water per month or 240,000 gallons per year). Furthermore, a Disney-like water park runs counter to the culture and ethos of our community.
Wildfire — The risk of wildfire (within Olympic Valley as well as to the single evacuation route on Route 89) has dramatically increased since 2016. The recently published (2022) Olympic Valley Community Wildfire Protection Plan notes “Olympic Valley community has a very high exposure to catastrophic wildfire losses.” In 2022, the California Office of the State Fire Marshall revised its wildfire map that now indicates the high-risk area along the SR-89 evacuation route. Finally, new Cal Fire maps are expected to be published this year which will confirm “The Olympic Valley and surrounding area is in a very high fire hazard severity zone.”
Transportation — The Palisades Tahoe Revised EIR attempts to cure the transportation deficiency cited by the courts through expanded use of TART. This approach fails to deal with the new realities of our transportation problem, including lack of stable local housing options for workers, longer commutes, congested roads, lack of commuter parking lots and an unacceptable 11-hour evacuation plan using a two-lane road traveling through a high-risk fire zone.
The Revised EIR mentions that the parking garages will be used for “shelter in place” but provides no details regarding protection from flying embers, breathable air, water, food, toilets, medical support, etc.
Further, the recent decision of the California Air Resources Board to ban the sale of new gas furnaces and water heaters beginning in 2030, requires that the fuel choices for the new Village dictate a new EIR, especially since alternative fuel sources would dramatically reduce the risk of wildfire within the Valley.
Increased Tourism and Population — Fodor’s Travel issued a tourist travel warning for Lake Tahoe due to overcrowding. TRPA acknowledges Tahoe’s limited roadways are woefully inadequate to handle current demands. Since the original EIR, there are clearly more tourists visiting and more second homeowners living in the area. It is not enough to determine the load on the existing roads using new construction starts since 2016 as detailed in the original EIR. A revised evacuation study needs to be developed that takes into consideration the increased density of people and cars in existing homes and hotels due to COVID migration, remote working and increased visitor days within the region.
Real Estate Values — Due to the dramatic increase in the region’s real estate values, especially within Olympic Valley, there are now an increasing number of viable smaller village plans that would satisfy CEQA and achieve the financial goals of the applicant. This is a significant “new circumstance”; it is irrefutable that a smaller village plan can achieve the same amount of developer’s profit and taxes for Placer County with a smaller footprint for our community and with less impact on the environment.
The Planning Commission will take public comment on the project proposal and adequacy of the partial, revised, draft EIR until Jan. 30 (email: email@example.com).
Despite the apparent attempt by the developer and the county to limit review, the Olympic Valley community and the entire region deserve an open, inclusive analysis of this 25-year plan. We ask that you contact Placer County with your concerns.
Ed Heneveld is an Olympic Valley resident and member of Friends of Olympic Valley.
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