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Town warms up to idea of snowcat use on streets

Trying to avoid the unintended consequences…

The town of Crested Butte will likely see snowcats using the streets on the south side of town this winter. At the direction of the Town Council, an ordinance is being drawn up to regulate such vehicles.

 

 

Currently, only the Nordic Center trail grooming snowcat has permission to run in town. But Irwin Backcountry Guides (IBG) asked the council this past summer to allow their cat to run in town to fuel up and transport guests. Individuals with snowcats have also expressed interest in the concept. Because Mayor Alan Bernholtz and councilperson Billy Rankin work for IBG, they left the council chambers during the discussion on Monday, October 5.
The council wants to limit the number of permits allowed each winter to five. The permits would be treated in a similar manner to liquor license applications where they would go through the council initially but be governed administratively. The cats would be allowed November 1 through April 30. They would have to be street legal and the council is considering allowing only “rubber tracked” vehicles. The vehicles would have to comply with noise restrictions and probably post a $500 bond in case of road damage. The council wants to review the program at the end of the winter.
Councilmember Dan Escalante said he has heard from people along Whiterock Ave. who are concerned with getting the brunt of the snowcat traffic coming from Irwin. While a route running from Kebler Pass Road to Highway 135 would be designated each winter by the town manager, Whiterock Ave. might or might not be chosen as the route.
Public Works director Rodney Due said the cats would be kept away from major traffic arteries. Most likely, the designated route would go from the west end of Whiterock coming off Kebler Pass Road, turn south at Second Street toward the Nordic Center, and continue down Belleview to the key-lock pumps and back.
“I agree with the people who spoke with me that we could be opening up a can of worms,” Escalante said. “I want to have a thorough review. I want to make sure the vehicles are clearly marked.”
I don’t want to allow this and suddenly we have snowmobiles running everywhere.”
Councilmember Skip Berkshire said that since the intent was to allow fueling, perhaps limiting the number of trips per day would be appropriate.
“We need a rock-solid definition of a snowcat,” Berkshire said. “It needs some precision. We want real rubber-tracked vehicles. And we need differentiation in use. The Nordic Cat is operating before 6 a.m. and it has a long tradition of setting trails. I don’t want to see unintended consequences as a result of this.”
IBG attorney David Leinsdorf suggested that, given the trial basis of the situation, the permits be given based on which applicants are likely to do the least damage to town. “If you end up with eight applications for five slots, is it a concern. Maybe the permits are not given on a first-come, first-serve basis but rather based on impact… which cats have the lowest impact on pavement or noise, for example. I think it is a program that can work.”
Corey Bryndal of Irwin wants one of the permits and asked that if a permit is granted, it could be guaranteed to be renewed the following year.
“We can’t guarantee that,” responded Town Manager Susan Parker.
The staff will look at what can be done to regulate snowcats in town. A suggested ordinance will be drawn up and considered at the next meeting.
“With today’s technology, most of these will have no more impact than a regular pick-up on the street,” added Leinsdorf. “We’re all going into this to see how it works, but it is reasonable to review it after a year or two to make sure it is working.”
The issue will be discussed again at the October 19 meeting.

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