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Action alert: Threat to scenic Mono Basin, letters needed by August 21

August 15th, 2019 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

August 22 update: Over 700 comment letters submitted about the proposed Tioga Inn project

The Mono Lake Committee is encouraging people who value the Mono Basin to submit a comment letter regarding the Draft SEIR for the Tioga Inn, which has “6 significant unavoidable adverse impacts”* from the proposed major addition to the gas station and restaurant known as the Mobil Mart.

The Draft SEIR for the Tioga Inn is a significant addition to the current development known as the Mobil Mart.

This is a critical moment for public input; the letter deadline is August 21, 2019 at 5:00pm.

The Draft Subsequent Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) and Specific Plan for the Tioga Inn Project has studied a developer proposal to expand the approved site footprint onto a tall bluff that overlooks Highway 395 and Mono Lake. The proposed multi-unit, two-story construction of a 100-unit/150-bedroom Workforce Housing Village will, if approved as is, fundamentally change the experience of wild natural beauty of Mono Lake and the Mono Basin. Mono Lake, Mono County, and the scenic highway and gateway to Yosemite National Park deserve better.

As currently proposed, the project will be highly visible from many classic viewpoints including South Tufa, Panum Crater, and Highway 395 south of Lee Vining, and will have significant impacts on the prized dark night skies throughout the Mono Basin, deer migration, the Lee Vining community and more. The Workforce Housing Village would extend quite close to the boundary of the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area, a special protection designation area within the Inyo National Forest. Unfortunately the proposal lacks meaningful design options that reduce or eliminate these impacts.

Aerial view of the proposed Tioga Inn Project with Highway 120 on the left intersecting with Highway 395 and Mono Lake in the distance. (Map data: Google, Landsat/Copernicus)

It is important to note that the scope of the Draft SEIR does not include the previously-approved hotel and restaurant on the site. However, this further underscores the importance of commenting on the cumulative impacts of the SEIR’s additions to the approved hotel and restaurant plans. The draft document can still be substantially improved to provide county leaders and decision makers with thoughtful, realistic alternatives to choose from.

The Mono Lake Committee is confident that the project could be done in a way that truly addresses visual, wildlife, and other issues. We are developing a thorough analysis of the project and are urging Mono County to ask for meaningful plan alternatives and to explore further viable options for eliminating the project’s significant unavoidable adverse impacts, which include permanent visual and aesthetic changes to the area.

Please help make sure that Mono County hears from people who visit and love the Mono Basin by writing a letter today.

Submit a letter by August 21, 2019

  1. Click here to quickly submit a customizable form letter. This is a quick and easy option, and a form letter is definitely better than no letter!
  2. Write your own letter and submit directly: Letters should be emailed to Michael Draper at mdraper@mono.ca.gov (please copy arya@monolake.org) or can be mailed to: Michael Draper, Community Development Department, PO Box 347, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546, or faxed to: (760) 924-1801.

Sample talking points to consider including in your letter

  • The project’s visual impacts are significant, and the proponent has not considered sufficient mitigation to screen the Tioga Inn Workforce Housing Village.
  • The Final SEIR needs to include project alternatives that reduce the visual and aesthetic impacts to a less than significant level.
  • This project should not be visible from South Tufa or Highway 395 south of the Tioga Pass junction.
  • I urge Mono County to make additional efforts to balance the needs of the project with the unique, wild, and beautiful nature of this special place. The current draft project does not include alternatives that mitigate the identified impacts so that a good project can go forward.
  • Mono Lake, the gateway of Yosemite National Park, the community of Lee Vining, and scenic Mono County deserve a better project design than the one currently proposed.
  • The previously-approved hotel and restaurant already received special Mono County approval to create permanent adverse visual impacts. Now the proponent seeks to expand the project and create significant new visual impacts that will affect highway travelers and Mono Lake visitors every day. All visual impacts should be evaluated, and mitigated, at once—not in pieces.
  • There are cumulative adverse impacts to migrating deer with this project, and there is no planned immediate, enforceable mitigation that will reduce additional vehicle impacts with deer and other wildlife.

Overview of the site of the proposed Tioga Inn Project with Highway 395 in the foreground, looking West up Lee Vining Canyon. (Map data: Google, Landsat/Copernicus)

Overview of the project area with the proposal components overlaid. Building roof elevations are per current site plans. (Map data: Google, Landsat/Copernicus)

Sample letter text

If you love the Mono Basin night sky:

  • One of the things that I come to the Mono Basin for is to see the stars in the dark night sky. In looking at the Draft Subsequent Environmental Impact Report and Specific Plan for the Tioga Inn Project I see that impacts on light and glare are identified as some of the 6 significant unavoidable adverse impacts. I find it hard to believe that there aren’t more things that can be done in order to preserve this special resource, and urge you to require the applicant to come up with a project that takes further mitigation into account and not change people’s opportunity to experience the precious night sky.

If you do photography in the area:

  • South Tufa will be marred by this project. The iconic Mono Lake image of Mono Lake, tufa towers, and the Sierra Nevada, untrammeled by human activity, will have over a dozen two-story buildings built into the hillside, peppered with reflective windows and surfaces. This will detract from the enjoyment of photographing throughout the day at Mono Lake. Sunrise photography at South Tufa will suffer from the many distracting artificial reflections as the morning sun brings extra attention to this development, miles in the distance.
  • Night photography will also suffer as a new and much-increased source of light floods the night sky from a distant ridge. Despite Mono County’s night sky lighting ordinance, the addition of so many downward pointing lights high on the bluff will create a glow visible for miles and forever detract from this world-class night photography destination.

If you travel on Highway 395 for the scenic views:

  • The sudden, dramatic, scenic appearance of the Tioga Crest, welcoming travelers traveling north on Hwy 395 as they enter Lee Vining will be spoiled by multiple, two-story buildings breaking the skyline and interfering with this scenic, gateway view of the entrance to Yosemite National Park.

View of the proposed Tioga Inn Workforce Housing Village as it would be seen from a car driving north on Highway 395. (Map data: Google, Landsat/Copernicus)

More letter-writing resources

*For the official listing of the “6 significant unavoidable adverse impacts” go to the Mono County Planning Division website, download the second item in the Supporting Documents list, scroll to the bottom of page 9-1 (page 324 in the PDF) and look for the red check-marks in the right-hand column of the table.

For more information on the project, or more detail to help you write a letter, please contact us at by email or at (760) 647-6595.

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One Response to “Action alert: Threat to scenic Mono Basin, letters needed by August 21”

  1. avatar Dark Night Skies: Endangered Resource? - Jeff Sullivan PhotographyJeff Sullivan Photography Says:

    […] Action alert: Threat to scenic Mono Basin, letters needed by August 21 http://www.monolake.org/today/2019/08/15/action-alert-threat-to-… […]