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Concerns about casino redevelopment linger from conservation community

Matthew Renda
mrenda@tahoedailytribune.com
Boulder Bay / Courtesy IllustrationA look at the proposed redevelopment project as motorists drive on Highway 28 in Nevada toward the casinos in Crystal Bay.
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CRYSTAL BAY – Environmental watchdog groups in Lake Tahoe retain concerns about the final document analyzing the environmental impact of the proposed Tahoe Biltmore redevelopment project.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement regarding the high-profile Boulder Bay project – the Crystal Bay redevelopment project which proposes to erect a 300-room hotel with a 10,000 square-foot casino, 59 whole-ownership units, a spa and other amenities, while also addressing outdated environmental concerns at the Biltmore site – incorporates suggestions, revisions and critiques from local governing agencies, members of the public and environmental organizations submitted after the Draft Environmental Impact Statement was publicly released in November 2009.

Carl Young, program director for the League to Save Lake Tahoe, said Thursday while the organization has not had sufficient time to fully analyze the document, the impact to traffic levels as a result of the project remains a salient concern.

“If there was not substantive changes to the traffic analysis put forth in the document, the league will still have issues with this project,” Young said.

“We have concerns that this project will even be unable to maintain the VMT (vehicle miles traveled) baseline, let alone accomplish a reduction.”

Young said traffic congestion could undermine the resort’s potential attraction to tourists.

“Tourists don’t come to Tahoe to languish in traffic jams,” he said. “They come here to escape them.”

Boulder Bay Project Manager Brian Helm said the major difference between the traffic analysis as it evolved from DEIS to FEIS is a more sophisticated use of data to arrive at the baseline, from which analysts can assess the projected traffic impact.

Helm said when the initial data collection for the traffic survey was conducted to formulate a baseline in 2008, the local and national economy was in the throes of a devastating recession and traffic was considerably reduced as tourists were not traveling to Tahoe with regular frequency.

Thus, Hauge Bruek Associates – the consulting firm in charge of preparing the FEIS – conducted a supplemental traffic analysis that included a multiplier demonstrating what the baseline would be in a normal economy.

Despite the use of advanced data, Helm said traffic analysis is an inexact science relying on extrapolation, and the final numbers indicate a ballpark figure or data range as opposed to precise and finalized data.

“I believe the new analysis did an elegant job of attempting to provide additional real traffic impacts,” he said.

Ann Nichols, president of the North Tahoe Preservation Alliance, said the lack of sidewalks, the height of the project, potential construction noise and impacts on nearby Speedboat beach were not properly addressed in the FEIS.

“We had really hoped the developer would have come up with substantive responses, but it is more of the same old justifications,” she said.

Helm said project developers have made a concerted effort to eliminate strip development and provide a more pedestrian-friendly project.

He also said there is no height threshold in the TRPA code, but a scenic one, and developers have improved the scenic elements of the site by agreeing to move the built environment back away from the road as well as eliminating visible parking lots by placing them in garages beneath the main building.

Dennis Oliver, spokesman for TRPA, said these discussions and points of contention brought about by the conservation community will ultimately serve the greater good.

“The more robust public involvement we can get for the project, the better the decision the entire basin will end up with,” he said.

The FEIS analysis was paid for by Boulder Bay, managed by the TRPA and prepared by Hauge Bruek Associates.

The document will go before TRPA’s advisory planning council on Oct. 13 in Stateline, where planners will recommend whether or not the governing board should approve or not approve it. The governing board could vote on the document at its Oct. 28 meeting in Kings Beach.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement was released Wednesday by TRPA. To download it in PDF form, visit http://www.tahoedailytribune.com/boulderbayFEIS. TRPA is working to compile the large document into hard copy format, which should be available soon.


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