Royal Gorge agrees to early enviro review |

Royal Gorge agrees to early enviro review

David Madison/Royal GorgeCross country skiers at Royal Gorge take in Castle Peak in the background.

Royal Gorge ski resort developers have decided to make an environmental study of their property available to the public.The Sierra Business Council and other environmental groups are organizing a review of the study to address any unanswered questions about the resorts proposed development on Donner Summit.A review of this kind doesnt happen often, said Michael White, senior ecologist at the Conservation Biology Institute. Typically, public comment occurs during the release of the environmental impact report. An earlier review allows any issues to be addressed ahead of time, he said. The Conservation Biology Institute was selected as the third-party peer reviewer of the Royal Gorge environmental study. The consulting firm also reviewed the environmental impact report for the Martis Valley Community Plan. Future development of Royal Gorge has been a pointed topic of discussion for Donner Summit residents since the resort was purchased by Todd Foster and Kirk Syme more than a year ago. The Royal Gorge owners plan to develop portions of the 3,000 acres of land surrounding the resort. Finalized plans, however, are still in the works. The Sierra Business Council is joined by the Mountain Area Preservation Foundation and the Sierra Club in the effort to review Royal Gorges environmental reports on the lands existing biological resources. The Donner Summit Area Association, the Serene Lakes Property Owners Association and the North Fork American River Alliance will oversee the review process.We would hope this can create the relationship and the framework to have a more productive planning process, said Steve Frisch, vice president for programs with the Sierra Business Council. Royal Gorge completed assessments of biological resources, cultural resources, and geotechnical work to identify steep terrain less suitable for development, said Mike Livak, project manager for Royal Gorge. Recently hosting a site tour on Oct. 24, Livak said the review is a good first step to reach an agreement on what are the propertys existing conditions. The review of the baseline environmental conditions at Royal Gorge includes habitat, wetlands, wildlife migratory routes, and archaeological sites, Frisch said. The Sierra Business Council will provide a second set of eyes on biological resources, he said.The South Yuba River Citizens League met with Royal Gorge developers months ago and has been tracking the resorts plans, said Jason Rainey, executive director of SYRCL. The organization was invited to participate in the review process and accepted, and is now working to develop its goals and objectives in response to the developers plans, he said. Rainey said a number of other organizations are showing interest and concern regarding the future of Royal Gorge, which contains the headwaters of the South Yuba River. Royal Gorge developers have ambitious and inappropriate goals for such a fragile ecosystem, Rainey said.SYRCLs No. 1 concern is the degradation of the natural habitat and the impact on aquatic ecology. And, Rainey said, river sediment and run-off will impact Nevada Irrigation District customers, for whom the South Yuba River is a source of drinking water.Royal Gorge developers will meet with the Mountain Area Preservation Foundation, the Sierra Club and the Sierra Business Council in early December to discuss the studys results, Frisch said, and the review should be completed by the end of January 2007. After meeting with Royal Gorge environmental consultants, the local organizations involved in review can begin to generate a list of questions for the developers, Frisch said.

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