Private water well near Donner Park a contentious issue |

Private water well near Donner Park a contentious issue

Associated Press Writer

TRUCKEE, Calif. (AP) – A popular Sierra park that pays homage to the Donner Party is about to get a new, next-door neighbor, and local conservationists don’t like it.

A Truckee-based environmental group is suing to block Placer County supervisors’ recent decision to allow a commercial well on private property next to Donner Memorial State Park.

The Mountain Area Preservation Foundation says the business that will tap into spring water in Coldstream Canyon will generate heavy truck traffic through the east end of the park and harm the outdoor experience for visitors from across the country.

The 1,200-acre park along Interstate 80 attracts 150,000 visitors a year and commemorates the site of the tragic Donner Party of 1846-47.

Dozens of the covered-wagon pioneers starved to death and others resorted to cannibalism to survive after becoming stranded by heavy snow in the Sierra. Forty-two of the group’s 89 members died.

Under his conditional use permit, longtime property owner Walter M. Harvey will be allowed to store the artesian water in four tanks in the canyon and transport it by truck to an offsite bottling plant seven days a week.

The permit allows the trucks to make as many as 12 roundtrips a day through the park from May 1 to Dec. 15, or as many as 2,700 roundtrips a year.

Stefanie Olivieri, president of the preservation foundation, said trucks will drive within 100 feet of a park campground and disturb visitors in the canyon.

She said the project also clashes with an effort by environmentalists to acquire private property and spare the canyon from development. Harvey’s 26-acre parcel is nearly surrounded by the state park and other public land.

”People go to the park to fish, camp, hike, mountain bike and relax,” she said. ”There’s no question the use is completely inappropriate.”

Harvey said the environmentalists are misrepresenting his plans in the lawsuit filed March 28 in Placer County Superior Court in Auburn.

”It’s a continuation of the harassment they’ve subjected me to,” he said. ”They’ve openly said they intend to get us out of there. It’s not going to happen.”

He said he anticipates far fewer truck trips than the maximum allowed, but the exact number is uncertain until the completion of tests to determine how much water is available to tap.

The project is in line with past commercial activities in the canyon and would not disturb park visitors, the Sacramento resident added.

”A lot of Caltrans trucks drive (the same stretch) day and night to get to a quarry pit … and there are no complaints about them,” he said of Department of Transportation trucks operated by the state of California.

”There’s been commercial activity and heavy traffic up that canyon for years. Trucks have gone up there for logging, mining and the railroad.”

County Planning Director Fred Yeager declined to comment on the lawsuit. But he noted the project was unanimously approved by both the planning commission and board of supervisors after an extensive review.

”With mitigation measures and 27 conditions of approval, the county determined it would not have significant, adverse environmental impacts,” he said.

The preservation foundation disagrees. The suit says the county’s adoption of a negative declaration for the project was based on an insufficient study and violated terms of the California Environmental Quality Act.

The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction to force the county to rescind the approval and complete a full environmental impact report.

”We think the county is wrong,” said foundation lawyer Donald Mooney of Davis. ”We think it’ll have significant impacts to recreation, noise, traffic, aesthetics, ground water and surface water.”

Harvey denied the group’s charges that the operation could drain Coldstream Creek. The county’s permit allows him to tap only the well’s natural flow.

”This is going to be a relatively small operation. … We’re not going to do anything to damage the water supply or aquifer,” he said.

Paul Donahue, a counsel for the state park system, said his agency needs to learn more about the scale of the operation before taking a position. The agency earlier appealed the planning commission’s approval of the project.

”We think that (12 daily truck roundtrips) is too much and would detract from the park experience,” he said.

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