Report from Alpine Meadows Gazex Issues Bulletin <email@example.com>
As those of you who attended know, last Saturday’s Gazex meeting with County and Squaw authorities proved to be a challenging and at times contentious gathering.
In this brief report, we’ll try to summarize what happened and will share some next steps that are being taken to protect our small community from the violent impact of Gazex explosions in our neighborhood.
The meeting in Tahoe City was extremely well attended with over 75 residents present, as well as reporters from local media outlets and an attorney representing homeowners in Alpine Meadows.
It began with a brief overview of the agenda by Placer County Community Development Resource Agency Director Steve Pedretti, who soon handed the microphone to Squaw/Alpine President and COO Ron Cohen who ran the bulk of the meeting.
Many of us were surprised to find that the agenda planned for the meeting consisted mainly of a presentation by Cohen about the history of avalanche mitigation efforts in Alpine Meadows. It seemed that the County and Squaw had concluded that what was needed was an education about the rationale for using Gazex so that residents would understand the process by which these machines had been recommended and approved for use.
After recounting the evolution of avalanche mitigation measures over the past several decades, Cohen explained that putting ski patrol in harm’s way using hand-held charges is no longer a viable option. He also said that the U.S. military is planning to restrict the use of artillery like the howitzer and avalauncher, so that these remotely launched measures will soon no longer be an option either. Gazex was chosen because they have had good success with it within the resort and it is much less expensive than the other alternative: snow fences
The planned agenda included a period for “questions” at the end, but did not include an open period for public comment.
However, within a short time, residents began to express frustrations with the agenda, and began to (at times loudly) express their concerns and anger with both the process by which the Gazex installations had been approved and the resulting impact on our community.
The meeting facilitators made room for these comments and a microphone was passed around off and on throughout the meeting to allow people to express themselves.
Many residents spoke about the violent and overwhelming impact the Gazex explosions have on their homes, their families and themselves.
Some shared fear for the impact of such loud repeated explosions on their small children. Others expressed concern about the potential structural damage to homes subjected to repeated powerful blast forces like we experienced last winter.
Concerns were also raised about the impact of these explosions on soil stability, pointing to this year’s large mudslides in the same area where Gazex exploders were detonated last winter.
Additionally, residents expressed having found through their research that Gazex is not recommended for use in residential areas, and that snow fences are a much better solution for areas so close to homes.
A common theme expressed was that the experience of Gazex explosions in our canyon is unlike anything we’ve experienced previously.
Squaw and County authorities expressed that their assumption had been that the sonic and blast impact of the Gazex machines would be similar to those generated by previous avalanche mitigation efforts, including avalaunchers, howitzers and hand charges.
To counter this assumption, again and again, residents explained that the Gazex explosions are not only much louder than previous explosions, but that they send a blast force rippling through the canyon that shakes our homes violently in a way that no previous explosion has.
Both County and Squaw authorities seemed impacted by this testimony and expressed that they would be willing to question the use of Gazex above Alpine Meadows road, but that to do so, they would need to conduct some testing to confirm that the blasts really are more powerful than other explosive devices that have been used and that they indeed have negative impacts on people and structures.
Part way through the meeting, County Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery announced that the County would be willing to hire an objective third party to conduct tests in Alpine this winter so that there would be some concrete data to inform decisions.
Some residents expressed an openness to conducting some testing within Alpine Meadows. Others said that the explosions last winter were the only tests needed and that the results are already in–Gazex is not tolerable in our neighborhood.
Although we certainly can’t speak for everybody, from the sentiments expressed at this meeting, it does seem that at least a large percentage of Alpine Meadows residents are extremely concerned about any further use of Gazex exploders in our community.
One viable alternative discussed would be to install snow fences on the exposed hillsides, which keep the snow in place. Cohen indicated that Squaw would not be willing to bear the financial burden of snow fences (approaching $15 million), but that potentially we could ask the County to install them or could voluntarily tax ourselves to help pay for them.
Other alternatives discussed included replacing the existing large 3m Gazex devices with smaller Gazex devices or attempting to “throttle back” the existing devices so as to emit a less powerful explosion.
A minority opinion expressed was to discontinue any avalanche mitigation efforts above the road and simply let nature run its course. However, a quick poll of the room found that only one participant liked this idea.
1) We are planning to form a community entity to formally interact with County and Squaw authorities on behalf of the Alpine Meadows neighborhood. This could be a nonprofit entity under an existing nonprofit umbrella organization or it could simply be a neighborhood group. Research is underway into the best solution for our purposes.
2) We are exploring our options for taking collective legal action in order to stop any further use of Gazex exploders in Alpine Meadows or to limit any use to specific test explosions that would be used to gather more data. Some individual residents have already hired attorneys to represent their interests, but some of us feel that we can get more leverage if we work together in this regard. As we all know, legal actions are costly but if we share these costs among a large group, we can reduce the financial impact on any one individual.
-If you are interested in contributing financially to a legal fund that would be used to cover the costs of legal actions (including having an attorney write a formal letter, filing a lawsuit in pursuit of an injunction, and possible litigation), please contact Melissa Siig at firstname.lastname@example.org
3) We need volunteers to help share the workload of community organizing, research, communication, PR, etc. There are a number of different roles to play and if we can distribute the workload among a group of us, it will prevent the burden from falling too heavily on any one of us. If you are willing to help out in any way with our collective efforts, please contact Melissa Siig email@example.com
4) On a related note, the idea of forming an Advisory Committee has been discussed. This would essentially be a tight-knit working group to gather research, be in regular and formal communication with all local authorities, the media, etc. If you have some time available and are interested in being a part of this committee, please also let Melissa Siig know firstname.lastname@example.org
We appreciate the response from all of you who showed up this past weekend to express your concerns, as well as those of you who have written to County and Squaw authorities to let them know how this is impacting you.
If you are concerned about the potential impact of these powerful explosive devices that have been installed immediately adjacent to our neighborhood, but have not yet reached out, we encourage you to make your concerns known.
Please write to the following individuals to share your concerns and let them know that this is not an issue that is going to go away.
Placer County Community Development Resource Agency Director
Assistant Director, Placer County Community Development Resource Agency
VP Mountain Operations at Squaw/Alpine
The above individuals are working directly on this issue, and are collecting responses from community members. You may additionally want to reach out to these other county officials to let them know your concerns:
Placer County Deputy CEO-Tahoe
Placer County Supervisor, District 5
Tahoe Field Representative
Placer County Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, District 5
You’re receiving this email because you signed up for our Alpine Meadows Gazex issues email list.
If you know any other Alpine Meadows residents who may be concerned about these issues, please forward this email to them so that they can be informed as well.
If a neighbor or friend forwarded this email to you, and you would like to be kept informed about these issues, please sign up directly for this email list, which will only ever be used to communicate about Gazex issues in Alpine Meadows. You can sign up on our email sign-up page here.
We look forward to working together as a community to ensure that Alpine Meadows remains a safe and peaceful place to live for decades to come!