Sierra Watch: Squaw development threatens ‘everything we love about Tahoe’
August 20, 2015
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — The most vocal opponent of the multi-acre development for the Village at Squaw Valley continues to voice concerns the proposal will damage the valley's sense of place and have spillover effects in the region.
These and other concerns are highlighted in conservation group Sierra Watch's 130-page comment letter on the project's draft environmental impact report.
"Our comment letter makes it clear: Squaw Valley development proposals threaten everything we love about Tahoe," said Isaac Silverman, staff lawyer for Sierra Watch. "Approving this project would … be irresponsible."
In its letter, which was prepared by San Francisco-based law firm Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger and a team of experts, Sierra Watch lists the following concerns:
New lodging building would block mountain views during the day and produce light pollution at night, hampering the view of stars.
Additional traffic to the resort would clog roadways and increase air pollution and noise levels in the valley.
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Water demand from new buildings — including the Mountain Adventure Camp, which would include an indoor/outdoor pool system — would drawdown Squaw Creek.
Chevis Hosea, vice president of development for Squaw Valley Ski Holdings and Squaw Valley Real Estate, said while he appreciates the group's desire "to preserve the status quo," change is needed to protect Olympic Valley's environmental future.
"Unfortunately, our sense of place is injured today," he said. "In addition to the scenery, quiet and night sky, our environment is burdened with asphalt parking lots, a half-built village, a creek that has better resembles an urban aqueduct and numerous fractured individual residential developments.
"The Village at Squaw Valley expansion cures most of these negative components and will enhance the sense of place at Squaw Valley upon completion of the project."
Beyond Squaw Valley, Sierra Watch has concerns on regional impacts the nearly 94-acre development could have on roadways, noise, light pollution and water supply, among others.
"Squaw Valley is not an island, and the project would have tremendous impacts throughout the Tahoe Sierra," wrote Tom Mooers, executive director of Sierra Watch, in a cover letter to the comment letter.
A common criticism throughout its letter is the draft EIR either "fails to adequately assess" or "fails to assess" potential project impacts to the Lake Tahoe/Truckee region and Squaw Valley.
"All told, the DEIR fails to fully convey the magnitude of this massive project and the extent to which it would threaten the irreplaceable values of Squaw and Tahoe — fresh air, starry skies, the natural world, mountain streams, scenic vistas, outdoor recreation — and replace them with high-rise condos, traffic gridlock and noise," Mooers wrote.
As a result, residents and officials can't make an informed decision regarding the project, Silverman said.
Sierra Watch's letter, like the roughly 350 other comment letters on the draft environmental impact report, is being evaluated to determine if there are errors or deficiencies in the report's analysis, said Alex Fisch, Placer County senior planner.
From that, Placer County will learn to what extent additional analysis and information is needed to make the report and/or project mitigations complete.
Meanwhile, the project applicant, Squaw Valley Real Estate, thinks the draft EIR prepared by Sacramento-based Ascent Environmental is "very thorough," Hosea said.
"They have completed the most comprehensive and conservative environmental analysis for the project to which we have ever been involved," he said. "Obviously, real estate development in the Sierra and specifically in Olympic Valley is very sensitive, and they have provided the high quality environmental analysis to which this project, our neighbors and our company deserves."
The final EIR, which will respond to all comments received, is anticipated to be circulated beginning Oct. 30, Fisch said.
Developing a new plan?
Based on its perceived inadequacies of the draft EIR, Sierra Watch recommends Placer County deny the project and ask Squaw Valley Real Estate to develop and submit a new plan.
"The current development proposal is a non-starter," Mooers said. "But we are confident that working together, local residents, Tahoe lovers, Placer County and the landowner could come up with a better blueprint for reasonable development that would prove worthy of Squaw Valley — one of the great iconic places of our shared Sierra."
The proposal being considered is a scaled-down plan from previous versions, including fewer bedrooms and lodging units, shorter building heights, a smaller Mountain Adventure Camp, and less overall project acreage.
"This is not just our plan, it is a community-informed plan," Hosea said. "We asked for community input, received it in volumes, developed and transformed our original plan over the last four years incorporating tomes of reasonable and sage comments and recommendations to arrive at the current plan.
"Pursuit of an alternative plan would be redundant to the process we just completed."
This latest Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan outlines construction of up to 850 lodging units, with a maximum of 1,493 bedrooms; nearly 300,000 square feet of tourist-serving commercial space, while decommissioning about 92,000 square feet of existing commercial space; and a 90,000-square-foot Mountain Adventure Camp for indoor and outdoor recreation.
Additional parking spaces, construction of up to 50 employee housing units and restoration of Squaw Creek also are proposed.
Based on those specs, project buildout is estimated to take 25 years — which factors in basin construction regulations and market cycles — with construction proposed to begin as early as spring 2016, if approved.
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