GIVE SNODGRASS A LIFT On Friday November 20 at 11:45am, a protest will happen outside the Forest Service Rocky Mountain Regional Office in Golden. Invited to join the protest are Crested Butte community members, Gunnison and surrounding area community members, ski industry associates, all skiers, all snowboarders, all outdoor enthusiasts, anyone who has ever reaped the benefits of recreation on US Forest Service public land, all those who believe in due process, fairness and democracy.
Assuming the opportunity to voice an opinion is not taken away, like the opportunity for due process was for Snodgrass, the protest, lead by Mt. Crested Butte Mayor William Buck, will offer an outlet for communicating public opinion on the Forest Service’s recent decision regarding development of lift service skiing on Snodgrass.
On Nov. 5, 2009, Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) received a letter from the U.S. Forest Service denying the resort the ability to enter into the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process with its Snodgrass Mountain expansion proposal. NEPA prescribes a process by which a formal proposal is reviewed, objective studies are prepared and public comment is sought. It allows those in favor of, opposed to, and wanting to know more about the proposal to review the facts and weigh in. The NEPA process is designed to protect the public as the Forest Service is required by law to be objective, respond to public comments and explain its decision.
Snodgrass Mountain is located adjacent to Crested Butte Mountain. It has been designated for ski area expansion in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison Forest Plan (GMUG) since 1978, and has been included in CBMR’s special use permit since 1982. The previous ownership of CBMR received approval to develop lift served skiing on Snodgrass after going through the NEPA process in 1982. The proposed Snodgrass expansion will increase the amount of intermediate and advanced terrain at CBMR with 276 acres of skiing served by three lifts, a beginner carpet and a connector gondola from Crested Butte Mountain.
Here’s the kicker, the USFS’ decision not only denies the opportunity for development, it denies the opportunity for a fair process to reach the decision of whether or not to develop. The proposal for development was rejected before public vetting of the project. CBMR didn’t even get a chance.
The real surprise is all this comes after years of being lead on by the USFS that things were on track for approval to develop. The resort has been working with the Forest Service on the Snodgrass expansion proposal for the past five years. Throughout the process, CBMR has received clear indications from the Forest Service that all requirements for entering the process have been met. Even recently, the Forest Service indicated that geological studies were sufficient and there was enough public support for the proposed expansion to begin an environmental analysis process under NEPA. This decision follows an earlier decision from the Forest Service in which they said an expansion is necessary to allow CBMR to successfully compete as a destination resort.
It appears that the manner in which this proposal has been dismissed is contradictory to the procedure created and endorsed by Congress. The Forest Service did not request public comments or notify the public that it was prepared to reject the Snodgrass proposal without preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This precludes the objective environmental and social/economic studies that would be completed in a NEPA process.
Plus, in the past few years several Colorado destination resorts on public lands have proposed similar terrain expansions to the U.S. Forest Service, including Telluride, Copper Mountain, Steamboat Springs and Snowmass. In each instance, the proposed expansions received both public support and opposition, but the Forest Service made the decision whether to approve the expansion after conducting a public NEPA process and asking the public to comment on objective studies and on a draft and final EIS.
Despite a statement in the Forest Service letter denying the opportunity for appeal, CBMR does believe this decision is appealable under Forest Service regulations and is initiating an action.
In the meantime, protesters of the Forest Service decision have found a voice via an already over 600-participant-strong Facebook page called “Friends of Ski Lifts on Snodgrass,” created just days ago. Become a fan, go protest, exercise the right to fairness and democraski.
For more information about the Snodgrass Mountain proposed expansion visit http://www.snodgrassfacts.com.