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Vail Resorts, Gypsum appeal White River plan

Jane Stebbins
The Vail (Colo) Mountain Eagle Bahn Gondola runs as snowmaking continues Tuesday, November 20, 2001, on the Born Free ski run in Vail Colorado. Vail Resorts announce Tuesday that the Vail ski area would open for the 2001-2002 ski season Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 22. (AP Photo/Vail Daily, Quentin Hunstad)
AP | VAIL DAILY

The ski company – which owns the resorts at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone – and the Eagle County town join Copper Mountain Resort, Arapahoe Basin, Colorado Ski Country USA and six other entities.

“They have a whole range of complexity,” Dan Hormaechea of the U.S. Forest Service in Glenwood Springs, said Thursday. “Some people just need clarification, so they appeal because they don’t know what other avenues they have. Then you get the other ones where people have engaged attorneys – they get pretty complex. They’re not as easily resolved.”

The list of entities that have been formally accepted also includes:

– LEDE LLC, representing a reservoir between Eagle and Gypsum.

– The Blue Ribbon Coalition, an Idaho-based motorized interest.

– The Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition.

– Colorado 500 Inc.

– Two individuals.

Hormaechea said he doesn’t have details regarding what people are appealing.

Vail Resorts officials listed five areas of concern, including one President Andy Daly says affects more than ski areas.

“There’s a requirement in the plan that any water rights acquired by ski resorts are to be given to Forest Service,” he said. “That contradicts existing case law, Colorado water law, it’s unique to the White River National Forest, and it would appear to be something of a taking. Here we are acquiring water rights, and we’re being required to turn them over without compensation.”

That concerns ski company officials – particularly in times of drought – who are always trying to find additional water rights for snowmaking.

The rest of the concerns are requests for clarifications, Daly said.

For example, in the new standards and guidelines regarding trees, the new plan indicates that any trees removed from Forest Service land must be replaced with others. Another requires that branches cut from trees be left on the ground for small-animal habitat.

“Obviously, if we’re thinning trees for ski trails, that doesn’t work,” Daly said.

Vail Resorts would like the Forest Service to clarify how much of a lynx study submitted to the federal agency was actually considered in developing lynx standards. The standards in the current revision discourage compaction of snow and nocturnal activity – both of which would impede snowmaking and grooming.

Another clarification involves a prescription – a Forest Service term for zoning – that permits mining on ski areas. In the past, ski areas have been excluded from activities that might be allowed elsewhere on the forest, but aren’t compatible with ski operations.

“We look at this as a long-term partnership,” Daly said. “What we’re trying to do is clarify areas so there are as few areas of potential misunderstanding as possible. They want to sit down and work through it with us, and we’re willing to do it. I think we’re going to get this done.”

Colorado Ski Country USA outlined 16 issues about which its member resorts have concerns. One of those is aerial transportation corridors.

“The plan says it’s open to the idea, but they haven’t designated any specifics,” said Melanie Mills, spokeswoman for the organization. “The Forest Plan is going to be difficult to amend. We’d like more direction for when an aerial transportation proposal would be ripe to bring to the agency for inclusion in the plan.”

Other concerns address inconsistencies in the plan.

“All the policy issues ought to be clear so you’re not getting a different interpretation from one resort to another,” Mills said. “Some of our members aren’t on the White River, but have forest plans pending. Hopefully we can get these issues resolved in this plan and can establish good direction and apply it elsewhere.”

Alan Henceroth, director of mountain operations for Arapahoe Basin, said officials there are pleased with the new plan in that it allows Montezuma Bowl and The Beavers to be considered for inclusion in the ski area’s boundaries.

The appeal asks for clarification of who might be responsible for people skiing in those areas until they are included as part of the ski resort.

“Until we go through a complete planning process and incorporate those areas into our boundaries, we can’t do anything out there,” Henceroth said. “We can’t be responsible for the actions of people out there. Our interpretation is that until it becomes part of our operational ski area boundary, it is just like any other Forest Service land and we’re not responsible for safety in those areas.”

Jim Spenst, vice president of operations for Copper Mountain Resort, said he had not heard that the resort’s appeal had been formally accepted by the Forest Service yet, and wanted to defer comment until then.

Hormaechea said appellates had until Sept. 5 to submit appeals. The federal government then allots 10 days to ensure all the appeals arrive. Appeals are approved if they arrived on time, outline specific points the appellant is appealing and what relief they are requesting.

One national forest plan he worked on in Idaho in 1988 garnered 16 appeals and took two years to resolve, he said.


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