Wild & Scenic Mokelumne Update

Kirkwood Expansion and Development
Updates and photos of water quality violations
Kirkwood expansion remains a concern, June 2008
While construction at Kirkwood has slowed in recent months, expansion of the resort remains a concern. Most recently, we have continued to pursue a field trip to the site to review the exact location of the proposed restaurant on the Caples Crest. The field trip was originally scheduled for March and has yet to take place.

Kirkwood Update, February 2008

At an Amador County Board of Supervisors hearing on February 12, 2008, Foothill Conservancy, Friends of Kirkwood and traffic engineer Robert Leitzell of Mokelumne Hill showed that Kirkwood is continuing to fall short in complying with the conditions of approval placed on its expansion in 2003. But at the urging of county planners, the board found Kirkwood to be in substantial compliance with those conditions.

The conditions were put in place to mitigate significant environmental impacts identified in the environmental analysis for the Specific Plan. They required action by the resort and the county, and monitoring by a number of public agencies.

In the last year, Kirkwood has moved toward compliance with the nearly five-year old approval conditions. This has occurred because the Foothill Conservancy, Friends of Kirkwood, and state and federal regulatory agencies pushed the county and the resort to follow the law and make sure project impacts were mitigated. However, documented problems remain in 11 areas:

  • Geology, soils and geologic hazards
  • Water resources
  • Biological resources
  • Wetland resources
  • Air quality
  • Cultural resources
  • Traffic (parking capacity)
  • Noise
  • Hazardous materials
  • Recreation (protection of Kirkwood Lake)
  • Fire protection

Last summer, county staff said the resort was in "substantial compliance" with the 2003 conditions. As recently as October 2007, the Army Corps of Engineers notified Kirkwood that it was violating the Clean Water Act and recommended changes to the design of the Martin Point project. The 2007 supervisors' resolution called for full compliance.

The supervisors' 2007 resolution also called for establishing a collaborative committee to ensure full compliance (see story below). That committee was to include our organization and the resort. The committee has met once—in January 2008, after county staff recommended that the county find the resort in compliance.

Conservancy pleased with Martin Point appeal outcome
Supervisors' vote holds Kirkwood Mountain Resort accountable

At Tuesday’s Amador County Board of Supervisors meeting, the board voted 5-0 to deny the Foothill Conservancy and Friends of Kirkwood’s appeal of the Planning Commission approval of the Martin Point subdivision at Kirkwood Mountain Resort. But Foothill Conservancy was pleased with the decision.

“The supervisors’ decision accomplishes what we were after in our appeal,” said Foothill Conservancy board president Katherine Evatt of Volcano. “Our goal was to make sure that the more than 150 conditions of approval for the 2003 Kirkwood Specific Plan are complied with and enforced, especially in light of the resort’s poor record. Those conditions are intended to mitigate the residential development’s impacts on people and the environment. The supervisors’ decision acknowledges the compliance problem, holds Kirkwood accountable, and lays the groundwork for compliance oversight for the entire Specific Plan.”

While the decision paves the way for the 34-unit Martin Point subdivision, the board added a condition requiring Kirkwood to fully comply with the specific plan conditions of approval and mitigation measures before it can record a final subdivision map. The board will make the compliance determination.

“The new condition will give Kirkwood a financial incentive to comply with the conditions of approval,” Evatt said. “If they don’t, they won’t be able to final the project map, which means they can’t complete the sale of the lots. The decision was a well-reasoned combination of carrot and stick.”

In its appeal, the Conservancy presented reams of evidence and more than an hour of detailed testimony regarding Kirkwood’s failure to fully comply with project mitigations and the consequences: damage to air, water quality, and fish habitat, as well as deterioration of the quality of life for Kirkwood homeowners.

The Conservancy was also pleased with the board’s decision to establish a collaborative working group to monitor compliance with the conditions for the full specific plan.

“We always prefer to work collaboratively and find solutions that work for everyone,” said Conservancy Vice President Pete Bell. “We look forward to working with Kirkwood Mountain Resort, the county, and other stakeholders to make sure future development at Kirkwood doesn’t hurt people or the environment.”

Current Kirkwood issues
Martin Point Subdivision

On May 8, 2007, the Amador County Planning Commission approved the tentative map for the Martin Point subdivision on a 3-1 vote. They did so despite Foothill Conservancy providing ample evidence that Kirkwood is not fully complying with the conditions of approval for its specific plan.

Martin Point (formerly known as Ski-In, Ski-Out North) proposes 33 single-family homes and one duplex unit. It is part of the 215 single and multifamily units of Amador County development proposed in the 2003 Kirkwood Specific Plan. The full tricounty plan allows more than 6,500 residents at Kirkwood.

Addressing the planning commmission, Kirkwood Mountain Resort representative Nate Whaley acknowledged that Kirkwood isn't "perfect." He then attempted to blame the developers' lack of compliance on lack of enforcement by public agencies. He noted that each agency has mechanisms to "force compliance."

Earlier this year, the state Department of Fish and Game recommended that Kirkwood be prosecuted for a criminal violation of state law related to muddy runoff into streams last fall (see photos, below). Still, Whaley characterized Kirkwood's condition violations as "relatively minor."

District 4 Commissioner Andy Byrne suggested that the county wait six months before approving Martin Point to see if a new mitigation monitoring program actually works on the ground (violations have been reported as recently as March). Byrne noted that Kirkwood has an obligation to comply with the conditions of approval required by the county. But the other commissioners focused on the county's enforcement of those conditions.

District 5 Commissioner Ray Ryan remarked that enforcement has been an issue "countywide," but said that county staff should be allowed to do their jobs and enforce the Kirkwood conditions. Ryan stated, "If total failure occurs, at that point the Board of Supervisors will need to make changes." Ryan also said the county should not use past errors as the basis for keeping projects from going forward.

Even though Foothill Conservancy presented evidence of water quality violations continuing after the new monitoring program began, Commission Chairman John Gonsalves said, "It sounds to me like our staff and enforcement agencies are taking necessary steps to monitor and gain compliance. It sounds like they're doing a pretty good job."

District 3 Commissioner Denise Tober seemed to think the size of the Martin Point subdivision made it less than significant. She pointed out that it was not as large as the big projects being proposed in Amador County's cities. At buildout, Kirkwood's combined Alpine and Amador population will be larger than any city in Amador County today.

In the end, Ryan, Tober and Gonsalves voted for the project. Byrne voted to oppose. Barry Risberg, the one commissioner who participated in the lengthy specific plan review in 2002 and 2003, was absent.

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