Officials hear public comment on revised EIR for Palisades Tahoe project

Early Morning bluebird powder day at Palisades Tahoe.

OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — Placer County Planning Commission held a meeting last week in order to hear public comment regarding the revised draft environmental impact report for the purposed development at Palisades Tahoe.

The development in Olympic Valley proposes up to 1,493 bedrooms in up to 850 units, including a mixture of hotel, condo hotel, fractional ownership and timeshare units. It also includes new, dedicated onsite workforce housing that, according to Palisades Tahoe officials, will be built first and will house 300 employees.

A 90,000-square-foot Mountain Adventure Camp is also proposed and includes family activities and athlete training facilities in an indoor and outdoor environment. The Mountain Adventure Camp includes plans for possible indoor pool system that could include water slides and other water-based recreation. The facility could also feature an indoor rock wall, movie theater, bowling alley, and arcade, however the types of programming that could be included have not yet been decided, according to officials from Palisades Tahoe. The facility would also house other guest and employee services such as employee offices and convention services.

The Placer County Board of Supervisors originally approved of the project in 2016. Soon after, Sierra Watch, a nonprofit environmental organization, filed a California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit challenging claims related to adequately describing the environmental setting of the Tahoe Basin, impacts on emergency evacuations, impacts on traffic and noise and issues surrounding water sources.

In August 2018, the Placer County Superior Court ruled in favor of the county’s decision, resulting in Sierra Watch filing an appeal of that ruling. In August 2021, the court of appeals ruled that the environmental review analysis was deficient and that further analysis was needed regarding Lake Tahoe water quality impacts, evacuation times during emergencies, further discussion of noise impacts, and traffic impact mitigation.

Last August, the court issued a peremptory writ of mandate, requiring the county to rescind its approvals of the project. In December, a revised environmental impact report was released and included new and supplemental analysis regarding public transportation, construction noise, water and air quality in the Tahoe Basin and wildfire evacuation.

On Thursday, Jan. 19, the planning commission heard from county staff, Palisades Tahoe, Sierra Watch and members of the public concerning the partially revised impact report. County staff said that more than 600 letters flooded in regarding the proposed project.

“Where we find ourselves today in this process though, is an attempt to limit that scope, to constrain assessment to a few narrow interpretations of limited impacts as defined by the court of appeals, but Tahoe deserves better,” said Sierra Watch Executive Director Tom Mooers during Thursday’s meeting. “Tahoe deserves a broader approach.”

Members of the public and other advocacy groups argued the revised environmental impact report doesn’t fully address concerns regarding impacts on traffic and congestion in the area with some stating busy winter days can cause the drive between Tahoe City and Truckee to take upward of two hours. The ability to evacuate the area during a wildfire was also questioned. Others raised concern about water supplies and the impacts of drought on Olympic Valley’s aquifer.

“Is Olympic Valley a resort or is it community or both?” said Ed Heneveld, of Friends of Olympic Valley. “Please represent us all.”

Additionally, community members from outside Olympic Valley questioned whether other counties and jurisdictions should have a say regarding the project as its impacts potentially reach outside of the immediate area.

“There’s been a serious loss of confidence in the planning commission and Placer County Board of Supervisors due to their certification of the original EIR and project approval that was deemed inadequate by the third district court of appeals,” said Laurie Buffington, formerly of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association. “Despite the adjustments made to the revised draft EIR, my concerns regarding the scale of the project, impacts on traffic, emergency evacuation, Lake Tahoe air and water quality remain. There are many repercussions of a development of this scale that simply cannot be mitigated away.”

In total, the proposed plan area encompasses approximately 93.33 acres, most of which consists of the 85-acre resort village located at the west end of the valley within the existing Palisades Ski Resort base area. In addition, an approximately 8.8-acre area referred to as the East Parcel, which is the proposed site for employee housing, is located roughly 1.3 miles east of the main village area and 0.3 miles west of the intersection of Highway 89 and Olympic Valley Road.

Cherri Spriggs, interim executive director of the Placer Business Alliance lent her support toward the project, stating the proposed development hits on each of the alliance’s core focuses of agriculture, forestry, construction, finance and insurance, health care, social assistance, manufacturing, real estate and rental, leasing, retail and tourism.

“This project touches all of those,” said Spriggs. “From our perspective we’re really excited to get this done … this is really exciting for our economy.”

Placer County Visitors Bureau Executive Director Rob Haswell also stated his support of the project, adding that work will be done on previously developed land like parking lots and antiquated structures.

Additionally, a conservation corridor is proposed for the length of Washeshu Creek through the plan area to support improvement of terrestrial and aquatic habitat conditions, improved water quality and sediment management, and increased flood conveyance capacity. Other improvements include new and improved trailheads, a dog park, new fire station, 4,000-square-foot, a new grocery store, a transit center and upgrades to emergency vehicle access routes, bicycle facilities. The specific plan would be developed over an estimated 25-year build-out period, which, according to Palisades Tahoe officials is not a continuous construction timeframe.  

Placer County will accept public comments regarding the revised draft environmental impact report through the end of the month. Staff indicated a final environmental impact report will be brought to the planning commission sometime this summer.

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