A popular ski resort west of Lake Tahoe likely will have to pay at least $250,000 for allegedly destroying a wetland and then taking five years to complete restoration work that theoretically would offset its loss.
The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board has scheduled a Friday hearing, where the agency's decision makers will consider a fine against Squaw Valley Ski Corp.
The nine-member Lahontan board can affirm the $250,000 amount suggested by its staff, lower, raise or reject it.
Under Lahontan rules, the fine could be as much as $2.46 million.
"By destroying the wetland and failing to quickly mitigate the losses, I think it's safe to say we have seen adverse water quality impacts on the south fork of Squaw Creek," said Scott Ferguson, senior water resource control engineer at Lahontan.
In 1994, Squaw Valley started a project to expand its Gold Coast Pond from a quarter of an acre to 2 acres. The work removed about 1.3 acres of wetland. Squaw Valley was supposed to have a plan to offset the loss of the wetland before construction started, but the resort didn't, according to Ferguson.
The state agency, charged with protecting water quality for a 570-mile stretch in the Sierra, ordered the resort to address the problem. Squaw Valley came up with a plan to build a "mitigation wetland," and work was supposed to be finished by the end of 1995.
The project wasn't completed until last October.
The $250,000 fine being proposed is for violations of Lahontan rules during June 1998 through October 1999. There is an ongoing dispute about violations from 1995 through 1998, and Ferguson said the agency may go to court to recover approximately $350,000 for that period.
Wetlands are considered good for water quality because they stop erosion and filter out sediment and pollutants. They also help wildlife habitat.
During the past 10 years, Lahontan has taken action against Squaw Valley at least five other times for problems unrelated to the Gold Coast Pond expansion. The incidences included fuel spills, discharges of sediment into Squaw Creek, putting fill dirt into a stream zone and for violations during the construction of the resort's Funitel lift.
"We have not had this type of history of violations with any other resorts that are in our region," Ferguson said.
Nancy Wendt, president of Squaw Valley Ski Corp., could not be reached for comment.
What: Lahontan meeting
When: Friday 8:30 a.m.
Where: City Council Chambers, 1900 Lake Tahoe Blvd.
Information: (530) 542-5400