Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat

A Twain Harte-based environmental group filed an appeal Tuesday to a decision by the Stanislaus National Forest to approve expansion plans for the Bear Valley Mountain Resort.

The Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center is challenging the Sept. 21 finding of Forest Supervisor Susan Skalski that an environmental assessment shows no significant impact as a result of the expansion plans.

The plan calls for the addition of two lifts to provide service between Bear Valley Village and the resort, an increased daily capacity of 810 people, upgrade of the Super Cub chairlift, 174 more parking spaces, construction of the 12,500 square-foot Bear Top Lodge and the addition of 85.5 acres of developed trails.

CSERC is not opposing the majority of the expansion plan actions as approved by the U.S. Forest Service but is appealing the decision because it doesn't require mitigation measures to reduce impacts to sewer infrastructure, forest habitat and greenhouse gas emissions, according to a Tuesday statement from the group.

The environmental assessment of the project lowballs the number of added visits to the mountain the bigger resort will generate, does not address the strain the added guests will have on the local sewer system, includes a "major amount of clearing and loss of old forest habitat ... to affect 'at-risk' wildlife species" and calls for no mitigation of "a huge amount of emissions" to be created by the project, according to the group's appeal.

Stanislaus National Forest spokesman Jerry Snyder said CSERC's submittal of substantive comments in a 45-day public comment period prior to the decision allow the group's appeal.

Pacific Southwest Regional Forester Randy Moore, in Vallejo, has 45 days to overrule, reverse or return the decision to the Stanislaus. Per U.S. Forest Service policy, Snyder declined to comment on the appeal's merits.

"Our center is highly aware that the Bear Valley Mountain Resort is important to businesses and the overall economy of Alpine County and the Highway 4 corridor in Calaveras County," said CSERC Executive Director John Buckley. "We believe that a solution to this legal appeal is certainly possible if the Forest Service actually wants a solution."

Snyder said CSERC can still meet with local Forest Service representatives to see if a compromise can be reached, and withdraw the appeal.

Bear Valley Managing Partner Greg Finch on Tuesday expressed dismay.

"We are of course disappointed by (CSERC's) actions in appealing the Forest Service approval of the Bear Valley environmental assessment. This will cause unwarranted expense and delay in our efforts to improve Bear Valley and it goes without saying that this will have negative effects on the entire (Highway) 4 corridor," Finch said in a prepared statement.

"The Stanislaus National Forest team spent almost four years reviewing and considering all aspects of the plan … Significant mitigation measures were added to the plan as the studies progressed and several key ingredients of the initial plan were eliminated to meet environmental standards."

"I believe that the Forest Service is confident in the thoroughness and legal integrity of its study and evaluations process and that ultimately the plan will be upheld," he added. "Having said that, we will plan to meet with CSERC and see if there are ways to address concerns - without taking the substance away from the key improvements we consider important to moving Bear Valley forward."