Resort not pleased with direction
The U.S. Forest Service wants to extend the time required to respond to Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s appeal of the agency’s decision to no longer consider allowing ski lifts on Snodgrass Mountain. Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Rick Cables also wants to have a forester from another part of the country review the appeal.
Those two positions by the Forest Service have CBMR crying foul once again and they have made it clear they think the move is another example of the agency not following its own rules. Bottom line: don’t look for a definitive decision any time soon concerning that appeal of the Snodgrass decision.
CBMR and the company attorneys feel that under the rules, if Cables passes on the appeal, it should go straight to Forest Chief Tom Tidwell in Washington.
On December 18, CBMR filed and the Forest Service accepted an appeal on the decision by Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest’s Supervisor Charlie Richmond to end the process for evaluating whether to put ski lifts on Snodgrass Mountain. Normally, a response is due within 30 days, or in this case by January 18. And normally Richmond’s boss, Rick Cables, would do the appeal review. That won’t happen.
In a meeting with supporters of lifts on Snodgrass in Delta on Friday, January 8, Richmond confirmed that the agency was asking for an extension of time to respond to the appeal. A request that someone outside of the Regional Forest look at the appeal was also made to the Forest Chief’s office in Washington, D.C.
“Rick has written a letter to the head of the Forest Service asking the chief to assign somebody else outside of this region to look at the appeal,” Richmond told the group on Friday. “It will be somebody from another region who knows very little or nothing about this project.
“They will have the entire Forest Service and CBMR record,” Richmond
“The CBMR appeal was very comprehensive. The appeals officer will do what’s called a responsive statement and we’ll go in and talk about each of the issues raised in CBMR’s appeal.”
Leanne Loupe, External Communications Officer of the Delta office, explained that an independent review seemed the most appropriate course of action for this particular project. She admitted that there is a public perception and many accusations that Cables had a big influence on the decision rendered by Richmond. Richmond has stated several times that he discussed his decision often with Cables before making it public.
“Given the length of the appeal by CBMR [70 pages] and the fact it was filed just before the Christmas holiday, the agency is asking for an extension to respond to the appeal. Rick also felt like he shouldn’t be directly involved,” Loupe said. “Normally the agency would respond to an appeal within 30 days but that’s for a minor, uncomplicated appeal. That’s not this situation. I can’t give you an idea of the time frame it will take.”
CBMR sends letter of protest
CBMR Vice President of Resort Planning Michael Kraatz admitted frustration with the latest developments. “Once again when it comes to Snodgrass, CBMR’s position is that the Forest Service isn’t following its own rules. Under the Forest Service regulations, if Rick Cables doesn’t take the appeal, the Forest Chief, Tom Tidwell, should become the reviewing officer.”
On Tuesday, the resort sent a letter from its attorneys protesting the pending action to Richmond, Cables and Tidwell.
“The idea of the time extension also came as a surprise to us,” Kraatz continued. “We first discovered just a few days ago when we were looking at their website that Richmond had requested a 45-day extension to his response period. But he filed that request with Cables on December 22. They never notified us they were making that request. As the appellant, there is a procedure they need to follow. They need to notify all the parties to the appeal. Once again, they failed to follow their procedures and notify us. It sounds nitpicky but it’s important that we know what’s going on with our case.”
A Forest Service press release issued last Friday states that the review will likely take several weeks to months to complete.
Loupe said the Snodgrass process has turned into a unique situation. “It’s not unprecedented to send an appeal out of the region,” she explained. “But it is somewhat unique. This whole process has been unique.” She said that normally the decision made by Richmond is not subject to administrative appeal but that was not the case in this situation.
FOSM, RMBL and Ski Country USA want a seat at the table
As part of the appeal process, three organizations have filed requests to be “interveners” in the process. This would allow them a seat at the table during the appeal process. According to Public Service Staff Officer Corey Wong, the three groups include the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, Colorado Ski Country USA representing the 19 ski areas in the state located on Forest Service land, and the Friends of Snodgrass Mountain.
“There obviously won’t be a decision this week,” Wong explained Tuesday afternoon. “The reviewing officer will decide whether or not to allow an extension of time for the responsive statement. He will also have to decide who will be granted status as an intervener and what will it mean. There are criteria to determine if a group qualifies as an intervener but there are still lots of questions to be answered.”
“We want the process to work,” Richmond told the pro-lift group last Friday. “Sometimes my decisions are upheld and sometimes they are overturned. That’s just the way the process works. Every issue that’s been brought up will be looked at by someone else. If the decision is made that we need to go into NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act), we’ll do that and we’ll do a fine job of it.”
Forest Service spokesperson in the Rocky Mountain Regional Office Janelle Smith said the agency is trying to follow its process. “There are still a lot of things we don’t know at the moment,” she said. “There are the logistics and the timing with an external review officer, for example. We will be working through those details in the next few days. We do have a process to handle these types of situations and we are handling it through the process.”
“That’s not how the process is supposed to work,” responded Kraatz. “Handing this off laterally to another forester is just another example of them not following their own procedures. They keep making things up as they go along. It doesn’t instill a lot of confidence and trust in their ability to deal with this situation. They clearly underestimated the support there is for this project. We’ll see how they respond to the letter. At the moment we are just waiting to see what they do.”
Forest Service cancels meeting with council
On a related note, Wong was scheduled to come before the Crested Butte Town Council for a one-hour work session on Tuesday, January 19. He was to discuss the pre-NEPA process and the Special Uses Screening Criteria used in such cases.
However, Wednesday morning, the Forest Service was apparently advised by its attorneys to not participate in that discussion and so the town was notified that Wong won’t be coming to Crested Butte. Instead, the town will look for a replacement not associated with the Forest Service to discuss the situation and process.
That fun will take place in the gymnasium at the Crested Butte town hall at 6 p.m. There will be the opportunity for the council to take some action on the issue at their council meeting following the work session.