After nearly eight hours of discussion and public comments, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's Governing Board on Wednesday approved Alternative 4 in Heavenly Mountain Resort's master plan.
Environmental groups came painfully close to seeing the defeat of the alternative, which they've said will unnecessarily destroy old-growth trees by allowing the development of a high-speed quad to bisect a stand in the Nevada Woods area of Heavenly.
Alternative 4 did not pass its first vote, with only eight total "yes" votes initially garnered. Five "yes" votes were required from Nevada representatives, and nine total "yes" votes needed for any alternative to pass.
Board members Coe Swobe, Norma Santiago and Chuck Ruthe expressed concern over the red fir trees, considered old-growth by environmental groups but not by the TRPA or the U.S. Forest Service.
TRPA's Executive Director John Singlaub drew jeers from several in the crowd when he tried to ease board members' fears about the status of the stand.
"If we had an old-growth forest, there would be no way we'd be cutting trees," said Singlaub. "We are talking basically about cutting big trees."
The turning point in the decision-making process came when board member Steve Merrill found no support for Alternative 5 among his peers.
Lacking the support needed to pass his preferred alternative forward, Merrill switched his preference from 5 to 4, allowing the passage of the alternative by a single vote.
Disappointment was palpable among representatives of Tahoe Basin environmental groups after the emotionally charged decision.
"The TRPA has essentially abandoned its role as an environmental protector and assigned itself the task of promoting the economic development of the Basin," said Rochelle Nason, executive director for the League to Save Lake Tahoe.
Heavenly officials were pleased with the board's approval of Alternative 4. Blaise Carrig, Heavenly's chief operating officer, applauded the decision and thanked all of the agencies involved for their work on the project.
"This really helps chart the course of Heavenly for the next 10 years," said Carrig.