|By Mark Grossi, The Fresno Bee,
Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 04, 2011--Bad economic times have given some Fish Camp residents what they have wanted for years -- a delay for construction of a resort hotel two miles south of Yosemite National Park.
The hotels' developer -- Pacific- Us Real Estate Group of Pasadena -- has filed for bankruptcy to reorganize its debt. PacificUs defaulted on a $5.6 million loan last year, and the lender scheduled an auction Aug. 18 for Fish Camp Meadow, the site of the project.
Fish Camp residents are relieved, hoping the delay will lead to downsizing the project or giving them a chance to buy the property. They contend the hotel could alter the flow of two creeks in the meadow, flood out parts of their tiny town, and possibly send pollution into Yosemite National Park.
PacificUs president Paul Giuntini declined to say why his company defaulted on the loan, but he says the bankruptcy will postpone the auction. Company officials say they will work out their financial problems, keep the property and begin building in the meadow next year -- unless the residents buy it.
"If they were to pay a fair market price for the entire property, we would be willing to sell to them," said Giuntini.
It's the latest turn in a long-running debate over the SilverTip Resort Village, a 137-room hotel with 30 separate chateaus, conference rooms and retail outlets.
In the planning stages for the last decade, the SilverTip would be the second major resort in Fish Camp, a town of 160 people along Highway 41 south of Yosemite National Park. The 242-room Tenaya Lodge opened 21 years ago.
The SilverTip encountered opposition years before Mariposa County approved it in 2003. Many residents wanted to simply stop it, saying it could create too many water and crowding problems.
But the project's environmental impact report -- which supervisors accepted -- does not suggest such problems.
Now residents say they are not opposed to a reduced development outside of the meadow. But they worry that a large hotel wouldn't just create flooding, but also could foul their town wells in the meadow and possibly send pollution into Yosemite.
"We want to be a partner to help conserve the meadow, protect our town wells and reduce flood risk to local homeowners," said Pamela Salisbury, owner and innkeeper of the Big Creek Inn Bed & Breakfast, next to the project site.
The residents this year also formed a conservation group called the Big Creek Conservancy, which would buy the property if it had the money. The conservancy is not announcing how much it would pay for the property, but its goal for an email fundraising campaign is $2 million.
The new conservancy is working on fundraising with the Sierra Foothill Conservancy, an established nonprofit organization.
In terms of nature, the Fish Camp Meadow is important because it is next to Big Creek, which empties into the South Fork of the Merced River. The river becomes the main stream through glacially carved Yosemite Valley.
If septic system runoff or other pollution got into Big Creek, it would go into Yosemite, a National Park Service crown jewel and the destination of 4 million visitors each year.
"Development can occur here, but not in the lower meadow," said Lynne Baker, an engineer and lawyer representing the new conservancy.
But the meadow -- behind the U.S. Post Office in Fish Camp -- is not pristine. A series of hotels have come and gone in this area over the last century. Braided stream flows have been rerouted into a channel to dry up parts of the meadow.
The county has required a more in-depth flood-plain study of the meadow in response to the residents' fears, said Giuntini of PacificUs. He said the study will be ready in the next six weeks, and he is confident it will support the analysis that the board has already approved.
But he said he didn't think it would satisfy the residents involved with the new conservancy.
"They have been seeking a way of stopping our project for years," he said. "And this is their latest ploy."
The reporter can be reached at email@example.com or (559) 441-6316.
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