At the Lake: Heavenly master plan passes
Environmental groups came painfully close to seeing the defeat of the alternative that they’ve said will unnecessarily destroy old-growth trees by allowing the development of a high-speed quad to bisect a stand in the Nevada Woods area of Heavenly.
Alternative 4 did not pass its first vote, garnering only eight “yes” votes initially. Five “yes” votes were required from Nevada representatives and nine total “yes” votes needed for any alternative to pass.
Board members Coe Swobe, Norma Santiago and Chuck Ruthe expressed concern over the red fir trees, considered old growth by environmental groups, but not by the TRPA or the U.S. Forest Service.
TRPA’s Executive Director John Singlaub drew jeers from several in the crowd when he tried to ease board members’ fears about the status of the stand in question.
“If we had an old-growth forest, there would be no way we’d be cutting trees,” said Singlaub. “We are talking basically about cutting big trees.”
The turning point in the decision-making process came when board member Steve Merrill found no support for Alternative 5 among other board members.
Lacking the support needed to pass his preferred alternative, Merrill switched his preference from 5 to 4, allowing the passage of the alternative by a single vote.
Disappointment was palpable among representatives of basin environmental groups after the emotionally-charged decision.
“The TRPA has essentially abandoned its role as an environmental protector and assigned itself the task of promoting the economic development of the basin,” said Rochelle Nason, executive director for the League to Save Lake Tahoe.
Heavenly officials were pleased with the board’s decision to approve Alternative 4. Blaise Carrig, chief operating officer for Heavenly Mountain Resort, applauded the decision and thanked all of the agencies involved for their work on the project.
“This really helps chart the course of Heavenly for the next 10 years,” Carrig said.
Wind and winter weather are likely to blame for a mudslide on Highway 50 near Riverton early Wednesday morning that forced the closure of the artery that links South Lake Tahoe with the Sacramento Valley for about 15 hours.
Westbound traffic restricted to one lane began moving at around 5 p.m. Wednesday night while eastbound traffic to Tahoe, stopped at Pollock Pines, began moving at 6 p.m.
“The plan is to get traffic moving in both directions tonight, going two ways and hopefully by tonight or (today) it will be back to running as usual,” said spokeswoman Shelly Chernicki.
The mudslide was about 500 feet wide and about a foot deep. It was caused by an overflowing irrigation flume.
An El Dorado Irrigation District spokeswoman said that a 30-foot tree knocked down the flume, causing the ground to become unstable.
Spokeswoman Deanne Kloepfer said the sides of the flume are 6 feet tall and a tree fell across the flume from the mountain side and broke through 2 feet on that side. When the tree hit the other side of the flume, it crashed through the 6-foot-tall side. Kloepfer said the water has been diverted upstream and no longer flows through the holes.
At the slide site, dirt hauler trucks from Doug Veerkamp Construction awaited bulldozers as they moved mud and dirt to a loading area.
“We have a whole bunch of debris that has washed out the road,” said Brian Syftestan, engineer for Caltrans. “We’ve hired a contractor to help clean it for us.”
Meanwhile, email alerts from two Tahoe chambers of commerce embroiled in membership drives were sent out en masse alerting the business community of the situation. In a message from Duane Wallace, who represents the South Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, he wrote on the potential liability and dollars lost to the business community when Highway 50 is closed, saying that loses for road closures can amount to $1 million per day to the South Shore economy.
In an email from ‘B’ Gorman, president and CEO of the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce, and Carl Ribaudo, chairman of the chamber, the alert noted they were tracking the road status with Caltrans and that skiers and snowboarders were still able to get to Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort from the lake side before getting to the area where the road was closed to traffic.
Recent storm activity has increased avalanche danger substantially in the Sierra.
The Sierra Avalanche Center released a “high” avalanche hazard rating Tuesday due to the recent snow accumulation and high winds.
The high avalanche danger was in effect for areas above tree-line on leeward (away from wind) slopes 32 degrees and steeper.
The center also included a “considerable” rating for areas below tree-line in open areas 35 degrees and steeper.
“In the last five days we’ve had over 50 inches of new snow,” said Andy Anderson, an avalanche forecaster for the Sierra Avalanche Center. “And 50 mile-per-hour winds moved snow from windward to leeward sides, so there are very large wind slabs that would be fairly easy to trigger.”
Wednesday’s avalanche danger decreased somewhat, to “considerable” or “moderate,” depending on the area.
Examples of high-risk areas include the leeward sides of Mount Judah, Elephants Peak near Carson Pass, and Relay Peak in the Mount Rose area, Anderson said.
Will Paden, the avalanche forecaster for Squaw Valley U.S.A., said intensive avalanche control has been running in 12-hour shifts for the last few days, using explosives to bring snow levels down.
Expectations for an additional 10 to 18 inches on Wednesday above 7,000 feet mean avalanche control efforts will likely continue at the same pace, Paden said.
“It will keep us on our toes for avalanche control,” he said.
Paden said he recommends skiing or snowboarding with a buddy and an avalanche beacon when snow conditions are like this, even in-bounds at ski resorts.
Anderson recommended sticking to the resorts and staying out of the backcountry while the avalanche risk is high, or at least sticking to lower, less-steep areas.
“I wouldn’t want to get out on a 32-degree slope up higher,” he said. “It will be a great day for skiing in the trees or staying at the resorts.”
For more information on avalanche risk and current conditions, go to http://www.sierra avalanchecenter.org.