Petition and survey results counter Town’s March work session
Last month’s Crested Butte Town Council work session on Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s (CBMR) proposal to expand lift-served skiing onto Snodgrass Mountain might not have told the whole story.
“There’s other views,” Town resident Ron Chlipala told the Town Council during its meeting on Monday, April 7.
Chlipala, a former Town Council member, presented the council with a petition signed by residents in support of lift-served skiing on Snodgrass Mountain.
The petition showed that 231 people believe that development of Snodgrass Mountain, if done in an environmentally sensitive way, could help the long-term sustainability of Crested Butte.
Of the petition’s signers, 91 reside in Crested Butte—the others own property or businesses or work within the town limits. The survey also showed another 275 had signed the petition but did not fall into one of the above categories.
At the same meeting, the Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce gave the Town Council the results of a survey that concluded the majority of local business owners are in favor of the expansion.
According to the survey conducted by chamber executive director Christi Matthews, 60 percent of 134 responding business owners were in favor of lift-served skiing on Snodgrass Mountain with 31 percent opposed and 9 percent unsure. In a letter to the Town Council dated April 7, Matthews said 82 businesses located in Crested Butte responded to the survey, with 56 percent in support, 36 percent opposed and 7 percent unsure.
The petition and chamber survey were in direct response to sentiments expressed by some of the 166 attendees of the Town Council’s March 24 work session on Snodgrass Mountain. The purpose of the meeting was to gauge the public’s will on the Snodgrass issue and forward those thoughts onto U.S. Forest Service supervisor Charlie Richmond.
Town Clerk Eileen Hughes reported 40 town residents spoke in opposition to CBMR’s planned expansion of lift-served skiing onto Snodgrass Mountain during the work session, as did 11 residents from outside town. One town resident spoke in favor of the plans, as did three people who reside outside of town limits. Two people said they were “on the fence” on CBMR’s expansion.
Plans to expand the ski area onto the 11,145-foot-high Snodgrass Mountain, adjacent to Mt. Crested Butte, have come and gone for more than two decades. Since 1982 Snodgrass Mountain has been proposed to be developed by Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) into more intermediate skier terrain. The idea has been on the back burner due to financial trouble and community opposition.
Plans for Snodgrass resurfaced in 2005 when CBMR submitted a preliminary proposal to the Forest Service for consideration before it officially entered the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, which would determine impacts of the development. The Forest Service and CBMR agreed to explore potential “deal breakers” before the federal agency accepts the resort’s official application. Those deal breakers include the mountain’s geology, community support and impacts on the neighboring Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory.
On Monday night, the Town Council was set to review a draft letter to Richmond that captured the sentiments expressed during the March 25 work session. Faced with the new information, Mayor Alan Bernholtz expressed his frustration that the new statistics were presented at that night’s meeting, not giving the Town Council proper time to digest it. “I’m a little disappointed to have this on my desk right now,” he said. “I have had no chance to look at this information.”
Prior to that, Town Council members Leah Williams and Skip Berkshire urged the Town Council to take a deliberate approach and represent all viewpoints held by Crested Butte and other local residents in their letter to the Forest Service.
Williams urged the Town Council to spell out what impacts most concern the town in a letter to Richmond, instead of just saying no. “If we simply say no, we’re leaving ourselves out of the process,” she said and later continued, “I think it’s important that everyone be heard and it’s important for the Town Council to pick some of the key points and relay them to the Forest Service.”
Berkshire agreed with Williams’ sentiment and said he thought the Town Council has a larger leadership responsibility when it comes to the Snodgrass issue. He questioned why the Town Council was hurrying to submit comments on Snodgrass to the Forest Service after three meetings, comparing them to the dozens of meetings held about the proposed expansion of the Crested Butte Center for the Arts. “I think [a letter] is a little premature and I think we need to deliberate,” he said.
Berkshire said the town could take a leadership role in facilitating dialogue on the Snodgrass issue and attempting to resolve some issues.
“I want to back the emotion out of this and get some facts in—and work toward a solution that builds bridges and doesn’t aggravate alienation and division,” he said, and suggested that the Town spend more time crafting a letter.
Town Council member Reed Betz countered that town residents have historically been against the proposal and it was time to put the issue to rest. “I think it’s time we send a clear message to the Forest Service that actually represents what this town has been saying for so long,” he said. “I’m ready to figure out what we want this letter to say and move on.”
Town Council member Billy Rankin pointed out that the Town was the deciding body on the Center for the Arts issue—and therefore was correct in debating the issue for many months. On the Snodgrass issue, he said that the town would simply be communicating its thoughts to the Forest Service, which was the deciding body. “I think it’s different from the Center,” he said.
Bernholtz recalled that the Town had held five meetings on the Snodgrass issue. “And that’s five more meetings than the Forest Service has had,” he said. “I think we’ve taken a positive approach.” Bernholtz also noted that the Town residents who attended the March work session didn’t seem to be saying they wished the town to compromise on the Snodgrass issue. “I heard loud and clear from the community that they do not want to see lifts on Snodgrass,” he said, and continued that Snodgrass issue evokes strong feelings in citizens. “It’s emotional for a lot of people,” he said. “This is our home.”
Bernholtz offered to call forest supervisor Richmond to ascertain what he’s seeking in comments—whether he wants to hear “yes” or “no” on the Snodgrass issue or see potential issues raised, as suggested by Williams. In the meantime, he said, people are still welcome to comment on the Snodgrass issue. “The door’s open on this,” he said.
In an interview this week, Richmond said that he wants to hear from the community on the Snodgrass issue. “We [The Forest Service] don’t need to be determining a community’s fate without having a strong support base for the expansion,” he said. “We’ve told everyone all along, including the ski area, that as part of the decision to accept their proposal whenever it comes, we want some indication that there’s a broad level of community support—realizing that you’ll never have complete support.”
However, Richmond says community input will not be the only factor in his decision whether or not to accept CBMR’s application into the National Environmental Protection Act process. He says the Forest Service will look at CBMR’s actual proposal and the findings of geological studies. “We’ll factor in all of that,” he said.
To make a decision based totally on the community’s feelings on the subject, Richmond said, “would be tough. The community is really split. It’s going to be a divisive kind of process if we decide to do it.”
In answer to the town’s question about what type of information he’s seeking, Richmond says he’s looking to hear whether citizens are for or against CBMR’s proposal and what specific issues are of concern. “The more specific the local governments can be, the better,” he said.
Responding to criticism that the Forest Service has not held its own meetings in Crested Butte on the Snodgrass issue, Richmond said it was too soon to do so. “We don’t have a proposal yet,” he said. “[CBMR] has never formally said what they are going to do.”
While the debate continues, CBMR’s proposal is slowly making its way through initial review.
According to Richmond, CBMR submitted its own geology study of Snodgrass Mountain last week to counter the findings of a Forest Service study completed last year. Richmond said both studies have now been submitted to the United States Geological Survey. “We want an impartial third party to review both reports,” he said. At the same time, Richmond said the Forest Service is planning on approaching Gunnison County about orchestrating a duel review process for CBMR’s application, once it’s submitted.
Richmond said his primary goal is to ensure the public that they will be heard on the Snodgrass issue. “I want to hear from the community,” he said. “The ski area expansions, which the Forest Service has done numerous times with all the ski areas we have in the sate, probably affect communities as much, or more, than anything we do.”
In a letter to this newspaper this week, CBMR owners Tim and Diane Mueller said they anticipate being fully engaged in the NEPA process on Snodgrass Mountain this summer.
In an interview, Diane Mueller said she and Tim have been following the Town’s conversation about Snodgrass Mountain but said the resort is determined to expand intermediate terrain. “We’ve been in this business for 26 years and we understand the need for intermediate terrain,” she said. “Our guests are asking for that.” She said her family believes that the expansion can contribute to the entire community’s success.
Mueller says CBMR is confident that enough community support exists for expanding skiing onto Snodgrass Mountain for their application to move forward. “We feel at this point that the majority of people would support us going into the NEPA process,” she said. “We have every reason to believe that the support is there.”
The Crested Butte Town Council may take another look at its draft letter to Richmond on Monday, April 21.