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Ski resort accused of environmental abuses

TRUCKEE, Calif. (AP) – Nearly a year after federal agents stormed Squaw Valley USA in search of ”egregious” acts against the environment, California water quality officials are considering asking the attorney general to help halt what they call a pattern of violations.

From sediment running off ski slopes and parking lots to the loss of wetlands and the blasting of rock for new lifts, years of activities at the resort are polluting a tributary of the Truckee River and damaging a sensitive mountain environment, state regulators said.

”It’s sort of a history we are seeing of noncompliance,” Harold Singer, executive officer of the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, told the Reno Gazette-Journal.



”It just seems like a pattern that needs to be addressed and needs to be addressed at a fairly high level.”

Squaw Valley executives on Wednesday said they were surprised that regulators felt the need to involve the attorney general. They denied the agency’s claims and said protecting the environment of one of the most scenic ski resorts in the Sierra remains a top priority.



”The environment is our asset,” said Nancy Wendt, president of Squaw Valley Ski Corp. ”A beautiful and pristine mountain experience brings guests and employees to Squaw Valley. It is our duty to make every effort to protect that experience.”

The Lahontan’s policy board is scheduled to meet May 11 to decide whether the California attorney general should intervene by seeking an injunction or civil penalties against the resort made famous by the 1960 Winter Olympics.

In a report released Tuesday, Lahontan officials cited a history of missed deadlines and alleged failure to obey discharge and cleanup orders.

Officials said they have ”exhausted their regulatory and enforcement options,” and that the matter should be referred to the attorney general.

Last June, agents with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency raided the ski resort’s offices and seized computers, computer files and other records associated with construction of the high-speed Funitel gondola in 1997-98 and another ski lift in 1999.

That matter, still under investigation by the U.S. Attorney General’s office, focused on illegal blasting and storage of debris, resulting in the pollution of Squaw Creek, according to an affidavit filed in support of the EPA search warrant.

Problems with the Funitel gondola and the Headwall-Cornice Express Lift were also addressed in the recent report to Lahontan’s policy board. In both cases, the report said, construction activities polluted Squaw Creek and state orders were violated.

Other alleged problems cited in the states report:

– During construction of the Gold Coast-Mainline Express Lift in 1999, an excessive amount of soil was disturbed, some washing into the creek, and a compliance deadline was missed.

– The resort has not adequately monitored sediment discharge from Squaw’s more than 250 ski runs that threaten water quality.

– Squaw’s system of some 21 miles of roads damage water quality, violating state standards.

– Parking lot runoff has been inadequately controlled, with some compliance orders disobeyed and deadlines missed.

– Deadlines to replace wetlands removed during expansion of a pond were missed and the wetlands continue to threaten discharge of sediment into protected waters.

”We believe a number of the activities are contributing to water quality problems and do represent violations,” Singer said. ”The violations in our opinion seem to continue. Our whole goal here is to get compliance.”

Mike Livak, Squaw Valley’s director of planning, disagrees with many of the conclusions by Lahontan water officials.

Reports indicating excessive levels of sediment in creek water, Livak said, were skewed because many samples were ordered taken immediately after rainstorms instead of on a random basis only.

”The problem with that method is it unfairly weights sample results,” Livak said.

Squaw Valley reports spending $400,000 on water sampling since 1992. Livak said those results indicate water turbidity in Squaw Creek over the last nine years was nearly four times more pure than municipal drinking water standards dictated by federal law.

Livak expressed frustration that Lahontan officials believe it necessary to consider referring the matter to the attorney general when he said many of their apparent concerns were not communicated to Squaw resort officials.

He cited a Nov. 7 letter from Lahontan watershed chief Scott Ferguson, who wrote that winterization and remediation efforts at the resort ”appear sufficient” to avoid water quality problems last winter and expressed his appreciation.

”It just seems like there’s some kind of disjuncture there,” Livak said. ”How is it we’re receiving thanks then, and now there’s (a proposed referral) to the attorney general?

”It’s really bewildering.”


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