Gondola vandalism work of extremist? | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Gondola vandalism work of extremist?

El Dorado County sheriff’s officials are meeting with FBI agents today to discuss vandalism to Heavenly Ski Resort’s gondola this week that could be tied to environmental extremists.

The gondola’s safety sensors broke during a regular safety check Wednesday morning because the sensors had been tied to a steel cable on which the gondola runs. A 2-by-16-inch stick was also wired on top of a downhill running steel cable. The stick had apparently been tied on the cable uphill of the tower in an attempt to dislocate the cable from the wheels, according to the police report.

Beside a tower base the acronym ELF was spelled in black wire ties. Police believe ELF stands for the Earth Liberation Front, an international underground movement that claims to vandalize in an effort to halt the destruction of the environment while maintaining a nonviolent philosophy.

The group’s common targets are ski resorts, laboratories and luxury homes.

Heavenly President Dennis Harmon said he didn’t know anything about ELF or whether the group vandalized the gondola. He said the vandalism only resulted in a couple of hundred dollars in damage and didn’t stop normal operation for too long.

“The guys got on (the gondola repairs) as soon as we found the damage,” Harmon said. “We were back in operation around 11:30 a.m.”

Sheriff’s deputy Warren Berg said the department is investigating the crime and consulting the FBI because of ELF’s notoriously destructive past.

“This is the first indication of something like this locally,” Berg said. “Who knows if it’s just someone who knows how to spell ELF or if it’s an act by someone in the group. It could be nothing or it could be the tip of the iceberg.”

No one from ELF returned a call placed to the organization Thursday afternoon.

Since 1997, ELF groups have carried out dozens of destructive acts resulting in more than $30 million in damage.

The largest act was against Vail Inc. in October 1998. ELF set fire to three buildings and four lifts at the ski resort, located 100 miles west of Denver. The damage was estimated at nearly $20 million.

ELF claims there’s no official membership, just individuals who choose to perform these destructive acts under the group’s guidelines.

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