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October 26, 2012
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Final EIR for Martis Valley Trail certified amid public concerns

TRUCKEE, Calif. - Trail alignment, user conflicts and safety remain areas of concern from some residents and property owners regarding the proposed Martis Valley Trail that proponents say will offer environmental benefits and additional recreational opportunities to both locals and visitors.

The Northstar Community Service District board of directors, the lead agency for the project, approved the trail's Final Environmental Impact Report at a public meeting on Oct. 17 at Truckee Town Hall.

No "significant" changes were made to the Draft EIR in creating the Final EIR, with revisions mainly consisting of adding or eliminating information for clarification or background purposes, correcting typos and updating dates, said Katherine Waugh, senior project manager for Dudek - formerly known as North Fork - the company that created the EIR, at the Oct. 17 meeting.

Many of the document's "master responses" to common concerns on the trail's environmental impact were either "less than significant" or they could be "adequately mitigated to less than significant levels."

The meeting was well-attended, and many residents and property owners voiced both praise and concern for the project, including Truckee resident Ann Penfield.

"It seems like a lot of the comments in the EIR, they're just saying, 'Well, yeah, this exists, but we don't feel it's significant,'" she said. "Who sets the bar on where the significance comes into play? ... That's just an issue that I have with how the EIR is done."

Cathy Spence-Wells, principal of Dudek, responded: "The whole part of this CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) process is to evaluate significant adverse effects on the physical environment, and significant can mean a whole lot of different things depending on the resource topic.

"For instance, there are very specific requirements under the law if it's a cultural resource. The law tells us that (if) you're going to impact it in a certain way, that's a significant effect. But it's not so simple for everything else."

NCSD board member Darrell Smith also commented on matter.

"I think there's a lot of support for what's in the report, including the questioning of what's in the report and what's the standard," he said. "Those are important questions and it is subjective in many areas. My understanding from the consultants is that's what it's suppose to be."

Throughout the meeting, it was reiterated the board would not make a decision that night regarding the trail alignment, but several of the approximately 40 people attending touched on the subject.

"I just want to say I really support this bike trail," said Truckee resident Alan Gauld. "I think it's a wonderful idea. It'll be a huge asset to the region in general and to Truckee specifically.

"I do quite a bit of cycling, and I think it would be much more enjoyable to have the trail go through the valley and not along the highway. A trail that goes right along the highway is only a slight improvement over actually riding on the road."

Northstar resident Kirstin Cravens is opposed to the Valley Trail alignment.

"Where my home is, it backs up to the possible Valley Trail," she said. "I really do not want to see 10 feet of pavement in my backyard. I'm also concerned about the parking issue. I'm concerned about littering issues. I'm concerned about the visibility from the homes in the valley route. I'm a full-time resident, but a lot of these (are) people's vacation homes ... I'm concerned a little bit about vandalism."

The EIR addresses many of those concerns, and some of its finding are: It's not "expected" that construction and use of either alignment will cause an increase in crime rates, and the environmental impact of a paved trail would be mitigated to "less than significant levels."

Another issue raised was the potential for user conflicts on the proposed mixed-use trail.

"When you have bicyclers and joggers, it doesn't mix well with those of us that like to walk our dogs," said Truckee resident Catherine Eckhardt.

Another potential conflict is between bikers and those who are hearing impaired, said Truckee resident Ellie Hyatt.

"When bikers approach from the rear, you cannot see them and (if you're hearing impaired), they can't hear someone coming up from the rear," she said. "It startles them, scares them and often times they cannot get out of the way."

The Final EIR states: "The increased use of the trails and the change in composition of user groups is expected to increase the potential for conflicts between trail users to occur. This is considered a potentially significant impact. The Draft EIR identifies several project design measures that reduce this impact and identifies one mitigation measure necessary to ensure the impact is reduced to a less than significant level."

Hyatt also brought up the issue that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers won't allow construction of the trail on its property until the outcome of a Martis Creek Dam Safety Modification Study is determined.

"In terms of the dam project and the timing uncertainties, the response to that comment does note that construction of portions of the trail that are not within the Army Corps land could occur without that dam safety modification project being complete," Spence-Wells said.

"But suppose you start the project - and it could be quite costly - and then suddenly, you hit the Army Corps of Engineers land and they're saying, 'no,'" Hyatt said. "What do you intend to do? We have a trail to nowhere."

A "trail to nowhere" wouldn't prevent people from using it, an audience member pointed out.

Smith thanked the public for their comments and questions.

"Some of (the comments) were very specific about the environmental impact report and critical, if not questioning in some cases," he said. "I would like to assure you that all those topics were already discussed between the board and the consultant."


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Oct 26, 2012 01:36PM Published Oct 26, 2012 01:35PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.