Sierra Summit

Conversations and observations about California's mountains

November 30, 2009
Green vs. Green at Lake Tahoe
A new kind of development struggle is emerging at Lake Tahoe: green vs. green. 

If you haven't seen my recent story about it, click on this link for more details: 


Very briefly, inventor and developer Roger Wittenberg wants to tear down the blighted Tahoe Biltmore Lodge & Casino at Crystal Bay and replace it with an eco-friendly resort he says will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dramatically slow erosion into the lake. Details about the project - known as the Boulder Bay Resort & Wellness Center - were unveiled a few weeks ago. 

But some of the lake's environmentalists are wary. As Rochelle Nason, executive director of The League to Save Lake Tahoe, wrote in an e-mail: "After many years of broad agreement about Tahoe's future, there are now some pretty fierce disputes raging.... The bigger picture is deeply worrisome - there is really no effective plan to achieve regional environmental objectives at this point, much less one grounded in science and sound policy, which Tahoe truly needs." 

On the north shore - which is struggling economically and losing business to other resort areas - support for the project is strong. "I am honestly concerned," said Art Chapman, president of JMA Ventures LLC, which owns Alpine Meadows and Homewood ski areas and who support Boulder Bay. "I see the deterioration of infrastructure. I see people moving out of the area. Here we have the environmental community, instead of getting involved in the community, and listening, they're just against everything.

"This isn't about development," Chapman added. "This is about the decline of Lake Tahoe, both economically and socially - and ultimately environmentally. Because if you can't create sustainable jobs, you can't sustain the economy."

Ultimately, he fears banks may decline to fund Tahoe projects because of regulatory uncertainty. And that, he said, could hurt the environment. "Because if the private sector withdraws and doesn't fund these environmental initiatives, you are going to be left looking entirely to governmental agencies. In the next few years, I can't see the state of California, or the federal government, putting a ton of money into this area."

The League to Save Lake Tahoe has not taken an official position on Boulder Bay but has sued to stop two other proposed developments, one of which includes stream restoration and erosion control projects and green-certified design and construction. "Those two (projects) have been egregious examples of development projects getting a pass on the rules that apply to everybody else in the Tahoe basin," Nason said. 

The fate of Wittenberg's project is now before the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's governing board which is holding a series of public hearings and is expected to make a decision sometime early next year.  


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About Sierra Summit

The Author
Tom Knudson lives in the Sierra Nevada and travels widely throughout the range. His hobbies include fly-fishing, backpacking and cross-country skiing. He is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes, one for a 1992 Sacramento Bee series "Sierra in Peril," a watershed work about environmental threats to the mountain range. E-mail Tom at tknudson@sacbee.com.

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