Land deal blocks plans for Mono Lake development | SierraSun.com

Land deal blocks plans for Mono Lake development

Brendan Riley
Associated Press Writer

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) ” A battle over a proposed development along the shoreline of Mono Lake has ended with a land purchase by Mammoth Mountain Ski Area aimed at preserving the scenic property on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada.

The ski resort now wants to trade the 118 acres on the west side of Mono Lake, about 90 miles south of here, for about 20 acres of national forest land it leases at the base of Mammoth Mountain for construction of new ski and lodging facilities.

The deal was hailed Wednesday by Geoff McQuilken of the nonprofit Mono Lake Committee, which had fought the development of the Mono Lake property for five years, who said it had threatened to “forever change the rural feel of the west shore” of the lake.

Mammoth got the land from Bill Cunningham for $3 million in 2005 but Cunningham exercised an option and got it back. This time, McQuilken said the price was $4 million.

Mammoth executives said that under terms of the purchase they couldn’t disclose the price. Cunningham didn’t immediately return a call to his home for comment on the sale of the land along U.S. 395.

“We’re trying to do a good deed, and turn that good deed into something that will assist us in refurbishing our facilities,” said Rusty Gregory, Mammoth’s chief executive officer. “We feel very strongly that the scenic (highway) corridor should be preserved.”

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Acquiring Cunningham’s land to block construction of up to 30 luxury homes had been a top priority for the Inyo National Forest. Aspen groves, springs and a stream are on the property located along the line where the Sierra Nevada range drops into the Great Basin that stretches through Nevada into Utah.

Cunningham has said he also wanted to see the land preserved, but wanted “a fair valuation” of the property. He still owns a small parcel on the edge of the lake, a high desert oddity that’s nearly three times as salty as the ocean.

Mono Lake, just east of Yosemite National Park, was designated the nation’s first federal scenic area in 1984. That helped to preserve a major stopover for migratory birds and save an inland sea that was being drained to slake Los Angeles’ thirst.

The lake was on a path to destruction after Los Angeles diverted four tributary streams into the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1941. The move followed a much more publicized water diversion to the south that turned Owens Lake into a dusty plain.

The federal scenic designation and subsequent California water rights rulings in 1986 and 1994 helped reverse the decline, and the lake is expected to reach what state and federal authorities set as an “environmentally sustainable” level by 2014, still well shy of its pre-diversion level.

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On the Net:

Mono Lake Committee: http://www.monolake.org