Op-Ed: Squaw Alpine Gondola Project, a Showcase of Damaging Impacts

The proposed Squaw-Alpine gondola project is now out for public review and comment. I have yet to get through the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIR/DEIS) but I already see many significant impacts we the public must oppose, to protect our wilderness, our heritage, and the unique natural resources our future generations deserve to experience.

The gondola has been sold to us by Squaw/KSL as not only environmentally friendly but even environmentally beneficial (reduced traffic, less pollution). But the US Forest Service is pointing out 33 adverse impacts that would be caused by the project. The Squaw/KSL’s preferred alternative, according to Placer County and the US Forest Service,  has been found to be the most environmentally damaging. Our wonderful Granite Chief Wilderness would be forever diminished and harmed, endangered species would lose their habitat, and the 37 metal gondola towers would forever impact our views from the Wilderness, the Five Lakes shorelines and the very important public Five Lakes Trail.

Granite Chief_Five Lakes Shoreline.jpg
© Chance Cutrano

The damages this gondola would inflict on our public lands is too much. The project would cause more development at the base of our Granite Chief Wilderness, with 36 houses, horse stables, tennis courts, another private chairlift and related fire and emergency evacuation threats, all served by the gondola. The Caldwell land the gondola would cross has been marred for 15 years by the numerous metal chairlift towers, standing over the Five Lakes Trail,  unused for all these years.

Squaw/KSL insisted since day one that the gondola would reduce traffic between Squaw and Alpine, and that it would reduce the carbon footprint of Squaw/Alpine (thus benefiting our future climate). It turns out the project will increase our traffic, increase our existing horrible traffic problems and increase the carbon emissions that harm our climate and future snowpack. Though Sierra Watch and the Granite Chief Wilderness Protection League have been challenging those KSL claims, ow the federal government is setting the developers straight.

I don’t understand how a gondola would operate in a future that will have more frequent “shut down weather” and less (or zero) snow where the gondola would operate. Given the storms that hit upper Alpine this year, one has to wonder just how often that gondola would be shut down? I struggle to see how they could operate the gondola “only in the winter,” as KSL has insisted for 18 months, given the likelihood of increasingly limited operations in a future of less snow and bigger storms. Why care about summer gondola operations? A summer operation would bring masses of people, with coffee cups and heavy feet, into the Five Lakes Basin. The personal effort (the hike in) to Five Lakes is the best means we have to control the human impact on this sensitive area.

I was skiing at Squaw Valley in the early fifties, my family has had a cabin at Alpine for five decades.  We have never believed in that “vision” of connecting Alpine and Squaw. They are two very different experiences. Our family always believed in a bigger vision around the wilderness and Five Lakes, an area protected for it’s peace and unfettered beauty, rich with inspiration, a legacy for future generations.

This opinion piece was originally published in the May-June 2018 Issue of Moonshine Ink. This opinion piece has been republished with the consent of the author, Elise Duncan.

For more information on the Squaw Alpine Gondola and the comment period/process, please go to the USFS website to learn more: https://www.squawalpinegondola-eis.com/

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