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Squaw Valley ski resort scales back expansion plan
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SQUAW VALLEY  (AP) — Squaw Valley ski resort is scaling back its expansion plans to try to meet concerns of critics in the Sierra just north of Lake Tahoe, but conservationists say the verdict is still out on whether the changes will go far enough to protect the wetlands, scenery and charm of the rustic mountain resort that hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics.

Operators of the Village at Squaw Valley announced they've decided to build fewer hotel-condominium units — 750 instead of about 1,100 they drew up on blueprints two years ago. They're also cutting plans for new hotel bedrooms from nearly 2,200 to about 1,500.

Maximum building heights will be reduced from eight stories to seven to meet concerns about protecting scenic views of Squaw's soaring mountaintops, developers said. They're also significantly scaling back a year-round indoor recreation center that critics called "Disneyland-like."

"We listened and we're ready to move forward with a scaled down development that will protect Squaw's future, create more than 2,300 jobs in the area while protecting more than 6,000 acres of recreation land," said Andy Wirth, Squaw Valley's president and CEO. He said the smaller expansion still will achieve an overall goal of providing extra beds needed to make Squaw an internationally competitive destination.

Olympic champion Johnny Moseley, who has trained at the resort where fellow champ Julia Mancuso and others train, said he's especially pleased with plans to reduce the size of the Mountain Adventure Camp with its large indoor pool from up to 132,000 square feet to a maximum of 90,000 square feet.

"I know that many people feared that Squaw was going to build an amusement park that didn't fit in with our mountain," he said in a statement Monday. "This really gets it right."

Some conservationists aren't convinced.

"The good news is they have understood Squaw Valley is an important place to a lot of people and we are going to do what we need to protect it," said Tom Mooers, executive director of Sierra Watch.

"But we're still waiting for specifics and an actual proposal. All we've seen so far are some pretty pictures and some colorful claims that promises to make things better than the failed 2011 plan," he told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Mooers said some of the changes may sound more significant than they actually are for a place near the top of the Sierra between the banks of Lake Tahoe and Truckee, Calif., along U.S. Interstate 80.

"Seven stories is still very tall in a place like Tahoe-Sierra," he said. "What they are proposing is a scale and scope that is different than what we have seen in the region."

Wirth said they plan to invest millions of dollars in restoring Squaw Creek and other environmental initiatives. He said they're making a priority preserving the key buildings dating to the 1960 Olympics.

They hope to reduce peak hour traffic by 25 percent, in part by creating a transit center to increase bus and shuttle service to and from Squaw and relocating and expanding a parking lot closer to California Highway 89 to reduce peak traffic on Squaw Valley Road leading into the main ski runs.

"These new plans reflect the input of literally thousands of our friends and neighbors in the Tahoe region," Wirth said.