Opinion: Squaw development may profoundly impact Tahoe-Truckee | SierraSun.com

Opinion: Squaw development may profoundly impact Tahoe-Truckee

Tom Mooers
Special to the Sun

April's news about a proposed gondola through national wilderness proves an important point: What happens in Squaw Valley doesn't necessarily stay in Squaw Valley.

In other words, development proposed in Squaw could have profound and permanent consequences for everything we value about Tahoe, Truckee and the Sierra.

To review: KSL Capital Partners purchased Squaw Valley in 2010, citing the properties' "great growth potential," and then a controlling interest in Alpine Meadows in 2011.

They filed an initial application for development entitlements in 2011. Their proposal has changed somewhat over time.

“Development proposed in Squaw could have profound and permanent consequences for everything we value about Tahoe, Truckee and the Sierra.”

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The current version still calls for development of a size, scale and scope the Tahoe Sierra has never seen: a series of 10-story-tall high rises and an indoor amusement park with water slides and fake rivers. They call it a "water amenity to compete with Lake Tahoe."

The proposal is so big, KSL projects that it would take 25 years of construction to complete the build out.

They also floated — and quickly withdrew — a proposal for a roller coaster. In April, they proposed a gondola route through the federally designated boundary of Granite Chief Wilderness to connect with Alpine Meadows.

In the meantime, the primary water provider for Squaw is seeking to build an eight-mile-long pipe to Martis Valley to pump water from below Martis for delivery to development in Squaw.

And Placer County officials have suggested that traffic from the proposed Squaw development would create "significant, unavoidable impacts" on Highway 89 between Truckee and Tahoe.

It could all add up to a very different Tahoe experience − for us and for generations to come.

In considering all these proposals and projects and potential consequences, the trick is to not lose sight of what we value.

If we value the lake, we should not build fake water parks to compete with Tahoe.

If we value the mountains, we should not build high rises to block our views.

If we value the great outdoors, we should not herd our kids into indoor amusements.

If we value our local watersheds, we should not tap aquifers to export water to distant development.

If we value our time in the mountains, we should not spend it stuck in traffic.

Which brings us back to the opposite of traffic: wilderness. When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law in 1964, it was as a bold statement of something we value not just in Tahoe but as an entire nation.

In his words, federally designated wilderness is "a faithful trust to the conservation of our natural resources and beauty" to ensure that "future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt."

So if we value that commitment, we should not build intensive, permanent, motorized infrastructure in Granite Chief Wilderness.

This is what we mean by our commitment to Keep Squaw True. Even if development proposals are driven by temporary interests, we won't lose sight of what's really at stake: the timeless values of our Tahoe Sierra.

Tom Mooers is executive director of Sierra Watch, which works to protect great places in the Sierra Nevada by turning development threats into conservation opportunities. For information, call 530-265-2849 or visit keepsquawtrue.org.