Kirkwood Mountain Resort was fined $754,732 this July for contamination to a nearby creek reported last spring, reports the Tahoe Daily Tribune.
During routine snow removal on an unpaved parking lot during the 2015/16 ski season, asphalt grindings found their way into the snow and then made their way to the sensitive wetlands around nearby Kirkwood Creek.
The investigation began in late April after an anonymous complaint made its way to the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board. Investigators surveyed the area and found that over the winter asphalt grindings were widely deposited outside of the parking lots as a result of snow removal operations. The grindings were said to have been used to resurface resort parking lots, a common practice to provide traction when the snow piles up. For 49 days, the Water Board says crews removed snow from parking lots with plows and blowers, thus spreading the asphalt material into places it shouldn’t be.
“It looked like a black snowfield. Actually under that snowfield is a running stream or a highly sensitive meadow area,” Ryan Hanson, a California Department of Fish and Wildlife warden and leader of the cleanup team.
In a subsequent May 2016 letter to Vail Resorts, owners of Kirkwood Ski Resort, inspectors from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) expressed concerns about the impact the asphalt would have on the surface and groundwater and charged the company with a Federal Clean Water Act violation.
Kevin Cooper, the senior communications manager for Kirkwood Mountain Resort, said the resort has been working closely with both agencies since receiving notice of this incident last year and claimed that third-party test samplings did not demonstrate any impact on the surrounding groundwater.
“We continue to work with the appropriate agencies to conduct ongoing site assessments and remediate impacts to the environment and have consistently updated the Kirkwood community and homeowners regarding this matter. We have already altered our snow removal procedures and will seek opportunities for our employees and contractors to learn from this,” said Cooper.
Penalties for the fine will be distributed among the two responding agencies, CDFW and the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board for staff costs over the course of the investigation, during the remediation process and for future monitoring. A large chunk of the money, $357,745, will be placed in a state fund to be used on future aquatic restoration projects benefiting Alpine and Amador County watersheds.