Lift in extreme terrain stirring controversies
BRECKENRIDGE – Dillon Forest Ranger Rick Newton is defending environmental and wetlands studies he did on a new chairlift at Breckenridge against environmental agencies who charge the reviews are incomplete. Newton said there are scant wetlands surrounding the project – the Peak 8 “Summit Lift” at Breckenridge, which would be the highest lift in North America and serve expert terrain that is currently only accessed by a 45-minute hike.The project also includes a realignment of another lift, called Chair 6, where, Newton said, the only wetlands exist. The ski area will avoid them, he said.”The folks from Breckenridge and the lift company feel they can put the new towers on upland sites,” he said.
Breckenridge is owned by Vail Resorts. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is concerned that the wetland survey was done in late September, “during what is typically the driest part of the year,” wrote the EPA’s Larry Svoboda in a letter to Newton. He said the survey could have underestimated wetland presence.And the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said there wasn’t enough wetlands information provided to effectively comment on the project, but “additional human access, snow grooming operations, drainage pattern changes, etc., may potentially negatively effect the aquatic environment.” The comments were submitted by Tony Curtis of the Corps of Engineers’ Frisco office.Newton approved the lift Jan. 20. His decision has been appealed by Durango-based Colorado Wild.
Changes in the way the U.S. Forest Service reviews projects for forests nationwide have streamlined – and some say watered down – the review process, but Newton said the new standards did not sway his decision to conduct a less comprehensive environmental anaylsis for the Peak 8 lift.But the EPA further cited concerns over soil disturbance in the sensitive Peak 8 alpine tundra, the negative effects of possible future snowmaking and how power and toilet facilities would be built at a new patrol hut.”It seems possible that the benefit of this lift will not exceed the environmental costs of its installation and management,” Svoboda wrote.Two organizations and a list of local skiers joined Colorado Wild this month in filing an appeal of Newton’s lift approval. A meeting with the group did not resolve issues with the project’s opponents, who say the lift’s marketing benefit does not justify the project.
A Forest Service review team will evaluate the appeal and make a recommendation to the forest supervisor, who is expected to decide by April 21 whether to uphold or remand Newton’s approval. Vail Resorts planned to build the $4 million quad lift this summer if approved by the company’s board of directors.Vail, Colorado