Environmentalists sue Placer County, Tahoe planning agency over Homewood ski resort plans

Lake clarity, scenic viewpoint threatened, according to Sierra Club, some nearby residents
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Homewood Mountain Resort’s owners, the Placer County Board of Supervisors and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency see plans for the ski resort’s expansion as the promise of an exciting future. But environmentalists are saying the Homewood vision is too large in scale for the community, threatens Tahoe’s legendary lake clarity and would spoil the area’s scenic view shed. With both sides at loggerheads, conflicting camps are now headed for a courtroom showdown. Earthjustice, representing the Sierra Club and residents near Homewood, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court late last week. The groups say in court documents they are trying to prevent “an ill-conceived, inadequately studied and environmentally-disruptive development project from threatening one of our nation’s iconic landscapes.” The court filing follows Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore defeats in early December in their fight against approvals the county and the regional planning group ultimately gave the Tahoe project. Mason Overstreet, conservation director of Friends of the West Shore, said the group’s goal with Homewood is to protect the beauty that attracts visitors to the Tahoe area. “We welcome a revitalized Homewood Ski Area, but the current project is simply too large,” Overstreet said. “A smaller resort in scale with the surrounding community would still bring in hundreds of jobs for residents and millions of dollars in revenue.” Placer County supervisors unanimously approved the Homewood master plan Dec. 6 and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Board OK’d the project eight days later. Karin Schwab, Placer County deputy county counsel, said Monday that because the county hasn’t seen the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court Thursday, she would hold off on commenting on it. But Michael Johnson, county Community Development Resource Agency director, said before supervisors rejected the environmental groups’ appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of environmental documentation that there was no merit to any of the issues they raised. Joanne Marchetta, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency executive director, said the Homewood plans were reviewed over four years before being unanimously approved by the board. “It’s unfortunate that this lawsuit could divide the community at a time when we need to work together more than ever,” Marchetta said. Plans include construction of 155 new tourist units, 181 residential units and 13 units dedicated to employee housing at the 49-year-old resort. Sierra Club spokeswoman Laurel Ames said the court is not being asked to permanently halt the Homewood development. Instead, environmentalists are seeking a new environmental impact report that better mitigates the impact of development near Lake Tahoe’s shoreline, as required by the Tahoe Regional Plan, she said. “The agency responsible for protecting Lake Tahoe should be enforcing environmental standards, not creating loopholes to drive bulldozers through,” Ames said. “An honest appraisal of the impact on the residents and the environment will make for a better project and a better result for everyone involved.” The Associated Press contributed to this story.