Squaw’s snow removal has locals up in arms | SierraSun.com

Squaw’s snow removal has locals up in arms

Julie Brown
Sierra Sun

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunA SUV passes a patch of ice on Squaw Valley Road. Squaw Valley and Placer County met Tuesday to discuss snow removal in the Valley.

It’s not just a Sierra Sun columnist who compares the main drag in Squaw Valley to a war zone.

“When I was driving [into Squaw Valley], I said, ‘What are they doing,'” said Tom O’Neil, a Squaw Valley business owner, at a recent meeting on Squaw Valley road conditions. “Turning the plowing over to FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency]?”

The snow removal nightmare after January’s onslaught of storms was the last straw for many Squaw Valley stakeholders, who called a meeting with Placer County officials Monday at the Village at Squaw Valley to continue the on-going dialogue over the county’s plowing service.

“I’m not going to be able to say right here today that we’ll be able to spend more time on Squaw Valley main,” said Placer County Director of Public Works Ken Grehm. “I don’t have additional resources next week. I think more what we’re talking about is what are we going to do next year, next month.”

From Placer County’s perspective, the roads in Squaw Valley are no higher a priority than any other road they plow, Grehm said.

Squaw Valley stakeholders, however, argued that clearing their roads should be at the top of the list. Accessing the ski resorts is key to the region’s economy, stakeholders contended. The resort generates county revenue in Transient Occupancy Tax and sales taxes, they said.

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“We need to recognize Squaw Valley Road and Alpine Meadows Road as integrally important to commerce in the area,” said Russell Poulsen, chair of the Squaw Valley Municipal Advisory Council and a Squaw Valley property owner.

Poulsen also noted the high volumes of traffic Squaw Valley sees compared to a residential backstreet.

“The fact that [Squaw Valley Road] carries 30,000 people over a weekend has no bearing of importance to Placer County,” Poulsen said.

January’s heavy snowfall stretched Placer County’s resources thin, with plows operating from the Tahoe Basin all the way down to Auburn, Grehm said.

At the beginning of January, the county’s snow removal services operated 24 hours a day, Grehm said. But as snow levels dropped, limited manpower put a cap on snow removal to 12 to 14 hours a day.

“We force [plow drivers] to get some rest before they come back on shift,” Grehm said.

Faced with narrow, unplowed roads that would not accommodate traffic demands, Squaw Valley Ski Corp. set to clear the snow themselves in late January and early February. Squaw employees and plows spent approximately 60 hours widening the main stretch into three lanes at the beginning of February, just in time for the weekend’s visitors.

“It’s a pretty substantial expense to incur,” said Vice President Tom Murphy of the Squaw Valley Ski Corp. in a phone interview Tuesday. “But it has to be done for the health and safety and vitality of the community.”

In the last storm alone, Squaw Valley Ski Corp. spent $9,500 working on their main road, operating snowblowers and loaders, as well as towing stranded vehicles.

Squaw Valley lies in the same zone as their neighbor, Alpine Meadows, which means both resorts share a plow.

“We personally think that’s a mistake,” said Nancy Cushing, CEO of Squaw Valley. “Because those are two major commercial centers.”

But if Placer County were to assign an additional plow to the area, Grehm questioned where he would get the resources.

“There needs to be a greater community discussion about snow removal,” Grehm said. “What are the priorities?”

Poulsen said the county should reallocate Transient Occupancy Tax dollars from their general fund into special snow removal service for the region’s ski resorts.

“The reason they came up with the tax in the first place is that all these visitors create extra work for the county,” Poulsen said in a phone interview Tuesday. “And so we need extra money. Yet, [the county] is not doing the extra work.”

Poulsen pursued a proposal for $75,000 to be diverted from the general fund to Squaw Valley snow removal, but the proposal died after he presented it to the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association last year.

Placer County Supervisor Bruce Kranz said he would suggest to the board to redistribute the occupancy tax dollars, but requested the help of the Squaw Valley stakeholders in convincing his fellow supervisors.

“Help me,” Kranz said. “Help me in getting down there and explaining the situation to the board members.”

Poulsen said he will pursue the snow removal funding again this year at the Board of Supervisors’ preliminary budget discussions in March.