Wetlands will go with West Slope development | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Wetlands will go with West Slope development

Rick Chandler

Joe Machado stood and spoke at the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, but the retired sheet metal worker from Placerville considers his voice a faint cry in the wilderness.

But maybe not, considering the message. Machado voiced fears by fellow residents that the Sundance Plaza developers are paving over a wetlands area which lies between Missouri Flat Road and El Dorado Road in Placerville. And his gripe is that the residents of the area had no say in the matter.

“It’s not right,” said Machado, who made the trek to the County Government Center and wedged himself in among the standing-room-only crowd at Tuesday’s board meeting, where the Sundance project was up for approval. “The project hasn’t even been approved yet, and they’re already running bulldozers in there and uprooting trees. They’re running the equipment through the creek (Mound Springs Creek). They just can’t wait to pave it over.”

This is a subject that should hit close to home with South Lake Tahoe residents who have waged more than their share of environmental battles over the years.

If they can pave over wetlands in the U.S. Highway 50 corridor without regard to public concerns, could they do it here?

The Sundance Plaza Shopping Center is a proposed development which would cover a 78-acre parcel in Placerville. It’s part of the Missouri Flat Area Management Plan that would include several retail chain stores and two major road improvement projects. Sundance Plaza would eventually include a little more than 500,000 square feet of retail space and about 2,000 parking spaces.

But there is approximately six acres of wetlands in the Sundance construction zone – and residents who border the area are very protective of their little patch of wilderness.

“The area used to be all wetlands years ago,” said Sue Megee, who has lived on El Dorado Road with her husband George for 34 years. “They logged most of the trees off in the 1970s when they built Prospectors Plaza (a shopping center which includes a Kmart store). They took eight logging trucks of pine trees out of there.

“That caused problems with erosion, and we experienced flooding. So they built an earthen dam … it’s just been one thing after another.

“It’s a big project, and the wetlands are in their way.”

The Sundance Plaza project has indeed been approved by the County Planning Commission. But because a commercial zoning ordinance needs to be modified, Sundance must also be approved by the Board of Supervisors, who have deferred a vote on the project to Tuesday.

Also, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must sign off on the project, as they must do in any development plan which includes wetlands. But at this point it is unclear whether they will do so.

Plans for the parcel include a park and a waste disposal retention pond. Developers will build around the existing Pioneer Cemetery.

“They’re making accommodations for the dead people, but what about the live stuff?” asked Machado. “It’s not right to just pave this over.”

Federal law requires mitigation in any development which will eliminate wetlands. In other words, the Sundance developers – Roebbelen Land Company of El Dorado Hills – must create a wetlands area somewhere in the county to replace the one they are eliminating.

But that does not impress bordering residents.

“When they first came up with this plan, homeowners wanted to get involved,” Megee said. “We were told to voice our concerns when the project came up for approval. But now everything is going forward and no one is listening to us. Where’s the representation?

“I mean, look at what is going on. There’s going to be a park right next to hazardous waste? It makes no sense.”

Third District Supervisor Mark Nielsen, who presides over the area in question, is in favor of the Sundance project, and plans to vote for it on Tuesday.

“But I’m not that familiar with the (wetlands) in question,” he said. “I’ve planned to walk through the property but have not done it yet.”

No one from the County Planning Commission or the Department of Transportation has seen any construction activity in the area.

“As far as trees going down, I have not seen that,” said County Planning Commissioner Bob Britzman. “I know that the area has been under study for a year and a half. But as far as I know, construction has not begun.”

Roebbelen Land Company Project Director Bob Brown had not returned phone calls by press time.

But for residents such as Machado, the bulldozers are all too real.

“I see grease in the water, I see oil cans and bottles all over the place,” Machado said. “They’ve pulled out brush and knocked down trees.

“Why are they in such a rush?”

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