Not what anybody wants to see from Alpine Meadows road, or the Alpine Meadows community. This is an artist’s conception of the view of the gondola mid-station produced by the SE Group.
The initial scoping meetings were held for the proposed SquAlpine Base To Base gondola this week. “Here we go again” is the best summary I can give. We’ve been going through the environmental review process for the Village At Squaw Valley project for the last two years, and now here we are, at square one of the process for the Base To Base Gondola project. Unfortunately, this one will be more complicated, with two studies happening simultaneously. At the scoping meetings, officials from Placer County and the Tahoe National Forest worked together to explain their respective parts of the review process.
In a nutshell, Placer County will be handling the CEQA required Environmental Impact Report. That report will be produced by Ascent Environmental. Together, that is the team that produced the EIR for the Village At Squaw Valley project, which identified 23 “significant and unavoidable impacts” from the project. During the comment period, the public supplied about 350 comments about the proposed project. In the end analysis, approximately 300 of those comments were pretty much ignored. We heard many questions today about whether it even made sense to get involved with the Placer County review, only to have no real impact on the project.
The Tahoe National Forest will be handling the NEPA required Environmental Impact Statement. That report will be produced by the SE Group. Sound familiar? Yes, it is the same SE Group that also performed the studies for Squaw Valley Ski Holdings regarding options for the proposed gondola. If you’re thinking that it sounds like the fox is guarding the henhouse, you’re not alone.
Much of the scoping meetings were spent on introducing the participants in the process and identifying that the only comments that would be collected at this time were those that addressed the scope of the environmental review. Promises were made by the nice woman from Placer County that there would be opportunities at a later date to discuss the actual merits of the project. Right….
SVSH Project Manager Jim Spenst sells the idea of destroying the edge of the Granite Chief Wilderness. Approximately 60 members of the general public attended each session today.
SVSH Project Manager Jim Spenst then gave a cursory overview of the project, identifying the location of key components on colorful maps. He also explained the need for the Gazex system to control avalanches in the Buttress area, rather than relying on the Howitzer and hand charges. One point that was different was that he said at both meetings today that the purpose of the project was not to increase skier numbers at the mountains. Squaw Valley is willing to invest somewhere north of $35 million simply to reduce 100 car trips a day between Alpine Meadow and Squaw Valley. Right…
Rather than having people ask questions about the project as a group, what followed were breakout sessions at the back of the room where you could talk to representatives from the Forest Service, Ascent Environmental, the SE Group and Squaw Valley about different elements of the project or the approval process. Although this certainly saved time, it made it difficult to share information.
Sell, sell, sell!
Lastly there was the public comment period, which was limited to only comments about the scope of the environmental review. Approximately 9 individuals commented publicly at the afternoon session and 4 individuals at the evening session. It’s not surprising that the more assertive people took time off work to attend the first meeting. Many people chose to submit written comments instead, as they needed more time to state things than 3 minutes at the podium would allow.
Here’s a summary of what people were thinking:
• The Forest Service does recognize that the gondola does indeed pass through the designated boundary of the Granite Chief Wilderness. There’s also plenty of backpedaling about private property rights superseding the wilderness designation. I find myself wondering why my local homeowner’s association has more power to protect the “greater good of the community” than the amount of power the USFS and Congress has to protect our wilderness. Odd, isn’t it?
• This would be a perfect time for the Tahoe National Forest to make this case the poster child for why wilderness protections need to be expanded now. Instead, it looks like they are willing to let it become the precedent that says that the wilderness designation does not matter.
White Wolf owner Troy Caldwell and TNF Supervisor Eli Ilano buddy it up in the back row at tonight’s presentation.
• The wilderness designation is sacred and cannot be taken lightly. It is a multigenerational issue as our decisions now will affect generations to come. Wilderness or not, the idea of building a highly industrialized and mechanized system of transportation along the crest of the Sierra is just wrong.
• Although the current owner of the land in question, Troy Caldwell, is not interested in selling that land to the federal government – a future owner of that property might want to do so. But if the development is allowed, that all becomes a moot point.
• There’s huge questions about the view sheds within the Alpine Meadows area. The headline picture on this story is just the start. Similarly terrible views will be propagated by the project in the Buttress zone near the parking lot and of the base station located right in front of the Sun Deck at Alpine Meadows.
The viewshed from the deck of the Alpine Meadows lodge…ouch. Another insult from Squaw Valley…
• Although the Base To Base gondola is being treated as an individual project, it is not. Clearly there are several related projects, all in various stages of approval. Nobody is buying the argument that the gondola is simply being built to reduce traffic on Alpine Meadows Road. It is closely connected to the Village project, and likely exists only because of the Village project. The proposed Rollers chair is also dependent on the gondola project. Troy Caldwell’s second White Wolf Chair would also be dependent on the gondola project. Then there’s the first White Wolf chairlift, yet to be completed…and Troy’s elite 38 home development…and don’t forget about the proposed Alpine Sierra subdivision. Cumulative impacts…we all need to shout STOP or at least SLOW DOWN! One commenter noted that the Alpine Meadows General Plan had not been updated since 1960. It’s time to do that before things get crazy.
• Several people took issue with the idea that SE Group will be overseeing the environmental study of a project put together by the very same SE Group for SVSH. We agree. A neutral party is needed. There was a day and a time where the USFS was neutral…
• One commenter suggested that we all needed to “trust the process”, and that the review process would result in something everyone could support. Right…
• Although all of the early presentations by Andy Wirth and Troy Caldwell insisted that construction would be done without roads, one construction road is very visible on the latest maps. Depending on whom you talked to today, that road was everything from a full on construction road to a single track path with supplies being hauled in by burros and bicycles.
• Not only would there be a ton of helicopter noise associated with constructing the gondola, that noise would continue. Plans call for helicopters to be used for servicing and supplying the gondola and Gazex system.
It All Comes Down To The Alpine Meadows Mid-Station
Most of the bad ju-ju regarding the current proposal for the Base To Base gondola starts with the placement of the Alpine Meadows mid station on that corner of Forest Service land right next to the Granite Chief Wilderness. Although they Forest Service has waffled about their ability to protect the part of the Wilderness located on Troy’s property, they do have the right to call the shots on their own property. It’s the SE Group that chose the current location for the gondola. It seems unlikely that they will take it upon themselves to insist on a better option in the EIS.
So to that USFS “wilderness specialist” that I put on the spot at the meeting – this is your chance to be the hero and actually protect the Granite Chief Wilderness. Simply rejecting the location of the mid-station near the Buttress would change everything, making the rest of the argument about the Granite Chief boundary a moot point. If Troy Caldwell doesn’t want the gondola to traverse lower through his property, as it should, then maybe that kills the project, as it should.
The comment period on the scope of the Placer County draft EIR is over on May 23, 2016. Comments may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Documents relating to the Placer County environmental study can be located at
Placer County expects to finish the draft EIR by mid winter of 2017 (based on an estimate of “a couple of months earlier than the USFS draft EIS”).
The comment period on the scope of the Tahoe National Forest draft EIS is over on May 31, 2016. Comments may be emailed to email@example.com or submitted directly at the website below. Documents relating to the Tahoe National Forest environmental study can be located at
The Tahoe National Forest expects to finish the draft EIS by spring of 2017.
Finishing our report, the Carpenters’ Local 1789 was out again protesting Squaw Valley’s refusal to commit to union labor for their proposed projects. The imagery is quite prophetic for the future of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows if we don’t stand up to big money.