After four months of deliberations that had the TRPA, the Forest Service, local conservation groups, and concerned citizens debating the ecological value of the North Bowl forest, the TRPA Governing Board approved Heavenly’s 2005 Master Plan Amendment on May 24.
According to the Amendment, Heavenly’s current North Bowl and Olympic lifts will remain in place and be upgraded to high-speed detachable quads. The resort will also add three new trails to the North Bowl region. To upgrade the lifts and cut the new trails, Heavenly will remove approximately 900 trees – 90 of them will be larger than 23 inches in diameter at breast height. The majority of those trees will be removed to make room for the new trails.
Local conservation groups were pleased with the Governing Board’s decision. During the protracted approval process they argued that the trees in the North Bowl are old growth, and a rare, valuable resource in the Tahoe Basin.
‘We were thrilled to have the board tell Heavenly to do the right thing, and that Heavenly agreed to do it,’ said Autumn Bernstein, Land Use Program Coordinator for the Sierra Nevada Alliance.
In a press release issued on April 31, Heavenly states, ‘The new chairs will access North Bowl Woods, which will provide a unique skiing experience within a grove of beautiful, giant red fir trees.’
However, the Master Plan Amendment that finally passed TRPA approval was not the one that Heavenly would have preferred.
In the minutes of the April 25 Governing Board meeting, Heavenly chief operating officer Blaise Carrig is quoted as saying, ‘(We) do not have a preference for either Alternative 4A or 5 as (we) don’t like either, and (I) know that it is an impossible battle to get Alternative 4 approved.’
Alternative 4 would have permitted the resort to install a new lift spanning the distance from the base of the current North Bowl lift to the top of the current Olympic lift. To install the lift and the three new trails, Heavenly would have had to cut 1,144 trees, 152 of which would have been larger than 23 inches in diameter at breast height.
Conservation groups preferred alternatives 4A and 5 because those alternatives left stands of large trees relatively intact. Alternative 4A described a new ‘kinked’ lift in the footprint of the current North Bowl and Olympic lifts.
At its April 25 meeting, the TRPA Governing Board insisted Heavenly choose between alternatives 4A and 5. The resort eventually chose a slightly modified version of alternative 5 – one of the trails in the North Bowl will be larger than originally planned, but will not be groomed and will be selectively thinned to leave large trees. Heavenly’s director of communications Russ Pecoraro said, ‘Alternative 5 was a better solution than 4A for our skiers and riders as well as for the environment.’
Since the TRPA approved the Master Plan, the Forest Service has done so as well. On July 12 the plan will go before the El Dorado County Planning Commission, and on August 21 the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors will review it. Though, according to Bernstein, both reviews areformalities.’