Battle Renewed Over Water Facility Plan Near Sierra Park

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Environmentalists and a property owner are clashing again over a proposed commercial water facility near a popular Sierra Nevada park that pays homage to the Donner Party.

At issue is Walter M. Harvey's plan to collect and transport water from a well on 26 acres he owns in Coldstream Canyon near Donner Memorial State Park.

The Truckee-based Mountain Area Preservation Foundation, and California Parks and Recreation Department plan to appeal the Placer County Planning Commission's Aug. 14 recommendation to approve the project.

They contend the business that will tap into spring water in the canyon will generate heavy truck traffic through the east end of the park and harm the outdoor experience for visitors from across the country.

The 3,123-acre park along Interstate 80 attracts 150,000 visitors a year and commemorates the site of the tragic Donner Party of 1846-47.

Dozens of the covered-wagon pioneers starved to death and others resorted to cannibalism to survive after becoming stranded by heavy snow. Forty-two of the group's 89 members died.

The county board of supervisors is expected to consider a conditional use permit for Harvey's project later this year.

"Should they pass it, we will sue for a full environmental impact report," preservation foundation president Stefanie Olivieri told Truckee's Sierra Sun newspaper.

The battle is flaring up two years after Harvey withdrew a similar plan, voiding a preservation foundation lawsuit to block the project.

The suit alleged that under terms of the California Environmental Quality Act, an environmental impact report should have been required.

In 2001, the use permit issued by the county allowed up to 12 trucks a day going in and out of the canyon on Coldstream Road, which borders a park campground.

Harvey reapplied for the permit this year, asking for a maximum of six truck trips per day. Plans call for the artesian water to be transported to an offsite bottling plant.

The longtime property owner has accused environmentalists of misrepresenting his plans in an effort to get him out of the canyon. He says the project is in line with past commercial activities in the canyon and would not disturb park visitors.

Property rights advocates are rallying behind him.

"I think (opponents) are against it for all the wrong reasons," said Larry Hahn, who owns nearly 60 acres in the area. "He went through a diligent due process. I'm glad for him."

But Olivieri said the project clashes with recreational uses in the area. Harvey's 26-acre parcel is nearly surrounded by the state park and other public land.

"It's one of the most beautiful, scenic resources we have in this area," she said. "It's egregiously incompatible with everything that is happening in that area."

Ken Anderson, a senior ecologist for the state parks system, said his agency's main concern is the project "is incompatible with state park uses."