Felon given OK to log on North Shore | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Felon given OK to log on North Shore

Melissa Vinitsky, Tribune News Service

TAHOE CITY — Squaw Valley this summer will add logging to its list of controversial projects. And it will be done by a convicted drug kingpin on property next to a residential area.

Despite neighbors’ concerns of potential environmental and aesthetic impacts, the California Department of Forestry determined that with mitigation measures the timber plan would not adversely affect the surrounding area. Squaw Valley residents are disappointed in the decision but acknowledge the landowner’s right to use his property for its zoned purpose.

Ciro Mancuso, a 20-year Squaw Valley resident and developer of Hidden Lake Properties and the Pioneer Commerce Center in Truckee, was granted approval last month to proceed with his plan to harvest timber from 19 of the 24 acres he owns at the end of Tiger Tail Road. He intends to sell the timber to a lumber mill and graze horses on the property, and also hopes to make the area more fire safe by thinning the forest and putting in an entry road.

Mancuso was sentenced in 1995 to nine years in prison for his role in what federal prosecutors called the largest marijuana smuggling operation in the West. He was released in March 2000. His name first surfaced during operation Deep Snow when the mayor of South Lake Tahoe and nearly two dozen others were arrested on drug charges in 1989.

Bill Schultz, CDF deputy chief for Forest Practice, said he received more than 50 letters, in addition to a number of phone calls, from residents opposed to Mancuso’s logging plan.

Because of the large number of concerns, the CDF conducted field inspections in August and October. Ed Heneveld, chairman of the Squaw Valley Municipal Advisory Council, said the process was thorough.

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“The hard questions were asked, the agency did a second review and it’s been permitted by the CDF,” he said. “It’s as much as we can ask for.”

One major issue raised by residents was fear that logging could make an area already prone to avalanches and mudslides even more dangerous. However, the review team reported that it found no evidence of avalanche activity. Because the timber harvest plan calls for selective harvesting, which the CDF report calls “one of the most benign of all harvesting methods,” much of the existing stand will remain intact. Vegetation will be retained throughout the area, serving to hold snow and soil in place. Openings between groups of trees will be less than 2 acres in size to minimize avalanches and the CDF concluded the plan did not increase the risk of landslides because it did not appear to alter the topography.

Concerns about erosion and flooding were also addressed by taking steps to avoid problems, such as including installation of water breaks on roads and skid trails, the removal of all culverts by Oct. 15, and mulching and seeding the crossings along the temporary road.

Measures were also included to reduce the risk and inconvenience to neighbors. Because the subdivision reaches maximum occupancy during the ski season, operations are confined from late summer to early fall. One of the two roads will be abandoned and reseeded once the logging is complete and the permanent road will be made from rock and watered to reduce dust.

“Given the landowner’s high profile within the Squaw Valley community,” the CDF wrote, “it was quite clear to most of the members of the second review tour that the landowner is committed to conducting harvesting operations in a socially responsible manner.”

Mancuso said as much. “The last thing I want to do is cause any environmental impacts. I live in Squaw Valley and want the property to be useful and better than it was before I started,” he commented.

Heneveld remains concerned about Squaw Creek.

“Any time you disturb land in Squaw Valley, the runoff could disturb the creek,” he said. “If there are adverse mudslides or flooding and it loads into the creek, Mancuso will be faulted and held responsible.”

The CDF also received letters from people worried about the visual impacts to the valley. While it would be possible to view the logging area from higher elevations on the ridges across from the site, areas at lower elevations such as the golf course and Olympic Village would not to be visually affected.

The CDF estimates the project will take two weeks and that approximately 150,000 board feet of logs will be transported from the site, which it calls “a relatively smallEamount of material to be removed.” This equals 35 to 40 truckloads for the project, with an estimated four to six loads per day.

Typically, the CDF inspects a timber harvesting operation at least three times. But in this case, Schultz said, it will probably be more than that “given the public attention to the project.”

While Squaw Valley residents would prefer not to have a logging operation in their back yard, they admit defeat with the CDF decision, which cannot be appealed.

Mancuso is content to finally be able use his land as he sees fit.

“It’s a personal thing. I want to use the land for whatever the case may be,” said Mancuso, although he doubts he will make any money from selling the timber after mitigation costs.

He also believes the logging plan will be a win-win situation for everyone.

“I can have access to my property and protect it from fire and the logging provides a break which the fire department can use to draw a line of defense,” he said.

Mancuso cast aside speculation that he wants to eventually change the property’s zoning to residential so he can build homes.

“I have no plans or aspirations to do so,” he said.

Mancuso still has to jump through one more hoop before he can start work on the property this summer. He needs to get a waiver for waste discharge from Lahontan.

The CDF permit is valid for three years and can be renewed up to two years.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.