“I frankly don’t see that circumstances have changed any”
The Coalition for Lifts on Snodgrass (CLS), a local group in favor of lift-served ski expansion onto Snodgrass Mountain, didn’t get exactly what they wanted from the Gunnison Board of County Commissioners at a special meeting called on their behalf Thursday, May 20. But then, neither did those who showed up to oppose action of any kind from the county.
What CLS was looking for was a letter from the county to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell asking him to take on a review of a Forest Service decision to deny Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s plan to expand lift-served skiing onto Snodgrass Mountain.
Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest Supervisor Charlie Richmond decided last November to end the process for evaluating whether to put ski lifts on Snodgrass. CBMR then appealed that decision, sending it to California Deputy Regional Forester Jim Peña, who ultimately upheld Richmond’s decision.
One review of Richmond’s decision isn’t good enough for people who want to see their expanded vision of the mountain become reality, so their focus has turned to Tidwell. He has to decide by this mid-June if he will look at the Forest Service decision and subsequent review.
And every time the decision-making and review processes started anew, the county commissioners were solicited for letters of support by both sides in the battle for Snodgrass Mountain. Every time their response was the same: We cannot take a position.
After thanking everyone on both sides of the issue who sent a letter or email to the county, adding that he’s “not too oriented toward the canned emails that cite a bunch of slogans,” commissioner Hap Channell said: “This is the third go-around, when you think about it… I frankly don’t see that circumstances have changed any, for us as a board.”
Even in its letter requesting action from the commissioners, CLS mentioned that the county attorney had advised the commissioners “to stay out of this because the county would regulate aspects of the Snodgrass development if it is approved by the Forest Service.”
But this time, CLS board chairman Nancy Essex said the request was for the commissioners to encourage “a fair and honest review of the proposal at the Forest Service level” and not for the commissioners to take a side for or against lifts on Snodgrass.
“The matter is before Mr. Tidwell and the first decision he has to make is whether he’s going to get involved at all,” Essex said. “As leaders, it behooves the commissioners to write to Mr. Tidwell and say we see a lot of concern about the procedures that have been followed.”
Other CLS supporters weren’t shy about wanting the commissioners to take a position, even after hearing over and over why they are refusing to weigh in.
Local real estate agent Mindy Sturm showed up at the meeting to share some of the perspectives from the valley that she doesn’t think are making it out in the open. She told the commissioners that by not taking a position, it looks to the public that they aren’t going to take any action.
“My biggest concern is that if we don’t get behind this program and get behind it, CNL will pull the plug all together and will shut down the ski resort and do a minimal amount that is required to keep the permits in check until the economy does come back for three or four years,” Sturm said. “By the community getting behind the ski area, it allows CNL to know that we do stand behind the ski area… It’s very possible. These guys are bean counters.”
Contractor Steve Schechter said he isn’t ready to stand behind the ski resort until it starts making the resort more accessible to local people who love to ski.
“I would ask the commissioners to stay neutral on this as they have,” Schechter said, pointing out that Monarch Mountain has increased skier days without major expansion. “As far as I see it, the ski area in the north end of the valley has priced us working people out of the market. If they want the community to support them, they had better support the community.”
Commission chairman Jim Starr was hoping that no matter what the outcome of the Snodgrass decision is, the people who faced off over this issue could come together to tackle other problems facing the county.
“The sooner we can come to a conclusion on this issue the better, because it has been divisive… My hope is that as this proceeds, and I expect that it will proceed for the next two or three years at least, that the community remain civil about it and that we can continue to move forward with unity,” Starr said.
To bring balance to their position, commissioners voted to give both sides something of what they wanted with a letter that makes Tidwell aware of the division in the community, while reminding him that the commissioners are staying neutral on the topic, again.