‘Game-changing’ project to go forward: Settlement reached on lawsuit against Squaw Alpine gondola
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows announced it has reached an agreement with the Granite Chief Wilderness Protection League, which had filed a lawsuit against the construction of the resort’s base-to-base gondola in September.
“What we were trying to do is to make sure that the impact of the gondola will be lessened,” said Patty Schifferle, a member of the Granite Chief WIlderness Protection League Advisory Board.
According to the suit filed, the Protection League believed the gondola would “permanently alter what is now a pristine Sierra Nevada environment” endangering wildlife and destroying the natural habitat. The suit claimed that the project has not undergone adequate environmental review or mitigation in the Environmental Impact Report certified by the county.
The resort agreed to various protection measures for the Sierra Nevada Yellow Legged Frog habitat and the Granite Chief Wilderness Area in exchange for the dismissal of the lawsuit that was filed against Placer County’s approval of the project.
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows will conserve approximately 27 acres of the resort’s private property that may serve as a habitat for the Sierra Nevada Yellow Legged Frog, which has since neared extinction in the state due to habitat loss, fish introduction, climate change and disease, according to the Protection League. The resort will also and contribute $50,000 towards the preservation and reintroduction of the species.
The settlement calls for Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows to provide $450,000 to the Truckee Donner Land Trust over the next 10 years to purchase land within and adjacent to the Granite Chief Wilderness Area, according to Liesl Hepburn.
“I think this gives us an opportunity to protect the fabric of our community. We’re pretty lucky to have a place like Granite Chief Wilderness,” said Schifferle. “We think these measures go a long way in mitigating the gondola impacts.”
Other terms of the agreement limits the Alpine Meadows mid-station to maintenance and safety personnel use and calls for signage and strict enforcement of the ski area boundary at the KT-22 mid-station. The gondola will operate during the winter season only, when both Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are in operation and must stop operations by April 30. The agreement prohibits the resort from constructing roads within the Granite Chief Wilderness area.
“We are very happy to have worked collaboratively with the League to address their concerns so that resources could be directed to environmentally beneficial purposes, rather than funding an extended lawsuit,” said Ron Cohen, president and chief operating officer of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, in a press release. “We are eager to get going on this game-changing transportation project.
The project was approved by Placer County in July 2019 in which the alternative that was shown to have the least impact on the environment was selected. This alternative occupies the least amount of land, spanning 2.2 miles, and is farthest away from the Granite Chief Wilderness.
The project includes two base terminals and two mid-stations and 33 lift towers. The gondola will begin at Squaw Valley, traverse over privately owned property and end at the Alpine Meadows base area. The eight-passenger gondola would be able to transport up to 1,400 people per hour.
Approximately 20% of the project will be located on national forest lands, requiring approval from not only the county but from Tahoe National Forest. The forest service approved the gondola in January. There is currently no estimate regarding the start of construction.
Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-550-2652.
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