Catching up on the basics of CBMR’s Snodgrass plan
With Crested Butte calling on residents to express their views on plans by Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) to expand lift-assisted skiing onto neighboring Snodgrass Mountain, it may be time for a review.
The Town Council will hold a meeting on Monday, March 24 to hear comments from the public. The meeting will be held at the Center for the Arts from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Snodgrass Mountain, located adjacent to the town of Mt. Crested Butte, has long been the topic of conversation among local residents since CBMR first proposed expanding its ski operations onto the publicly owned land. Here are the basics on the ski resort’s proposal:
What is the proposal?
In 2004, the resort, under the new ownership of Tim and Dianne Mueller, submitted a new proposal to the Forest Service for consideration before it officially enters the federal National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process.
Ski area consultant John Norton says in 2004, the Forest Service told CBMR that past geologic studies on the mountain indicated that Snodgrass might be unsuitable for lift-served skiing. Consequently, Norton says, the entities have been studying the geology and conducting geologic studies since that time.
While a formal proposal has not been submitted, the current design, dubbed "Snodgrass Lite" by its proponents, calls for three lifts on Snodgrass, a smaller beginner ski lift and a connecting lift from the mountain to the main resort.
One lift would dip into the Washington Gulch drainage but would not be accessible from homes in that area. The resort made the decision not to develop the mountain’s north face, which borders the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) in Gothic.
Where is CBMR’s proposal in the public process?
Before the Forest Service accepts CBMR’s proposal into the NEPA process, the two entities agreed to explore potential "deal breakers." Those are, but aren’t limited to, the geology of Snodgrass Mountain, considerations of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, and the public will. This period has been deemed "pre-NEPA," but it is not an official process. It’s unclear if and when the proposal will move into NEPA.
Does the Forest Service require public support before it will accept the application into NEPA?
According to Forest Service district ranger Jim Dawson, the Forest Service will consider public input before it accepts CBMR’s application. Dawson says the Forest Service will look at correspondence it receives, as well as letters to the editor in local newspapers and other documents. The decision-making process is an in-house function. There is no deadline to comment during this period.
What did the Forest Service’s geology report find?
As part of the pre-NEPA process, the Forest Service wanted an initial investigation done to Snodgrass Mountain’s geological stability.
The Forest Service commissioned the report, which was waylaid during the winter of 2005 when the head geologist, Michael Burke, retired. That final report was released on October 17, 2006, and identified increased moisture as a critical issue for the proposed development. Landslides and slope movements on Snodgrass Mountain are the main concerns that increased moisture would pose. These concerns, states the report, could be made worse through normal activity of a ski resort, such as snowmaking, as well as construction of road cuts that could sacrifice the integrity of the slopes.
How did CBMR respond to the geology report?
CBMR hired its own consultant, geologist Jim McCalpin, to study the mountain’s geology. In late 2007 McCalpin said he believes Snodgrass is safe to build a ski area on, so long as hazards are properly mitigated or avoided. CBMR is waiting on the further geological testing before it submits its findings to the U.S. Forest Service for independent review.
Norton says McCalpin concluded that Snodgrass is not an atypical mountain. While the study is not yet complete, Norton says, McCalpin has not indicated any "surprises" regarding geology.
Who are the Friends of Snodgrass Mountain?
In response to CBMR’s plans, some local citizens formed the Friends of Snodgrass Mountain (FOSM) in January 2005, with the stated mission of protecting the area’s economy with open space and viewsheds on Snodgrass, preserving wildlife species and habitat and migratory corridors, protecting the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory and preserving backcountry access to the area.
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The organization—which is not a formally organized 501(c) 3 non-profit—counts the 1,200 people who signed a petition it circulated as its membership. Of those people, approximately 750 are local residents and 450 were visitors when they signed on.
Where does RMBL stand on the Snodgrass issue?
RMBL director Ian Billick wrote in an email on March 18 that "The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory currently has no stance on the proposed Snodgrass Expansion. We have been waiting to see what the ski area proposes before we can assess its impact on the Lab. To the extent the expansion is solely about growth and putting more lifts on Snodgrass, it will disrupt the Lab’s operations. If the expansion becomes an opportunity to ensure the long-term compatibility of recreation, science, and ranching in the valley, then the expansion may help address issues that otherwise would go unsolved."
Billick says the lab has identified a range of concerns. "Foremost, we have commissioned work by avalanche experts that indicates that the expansion could cause serious threats to human safety and property," he says. "Additionally, the expansion will accelerate the loss of natural ecosystems that scientists study. This loss will occur for a number of reasons: Snodgrass will no longer be a natural ecosystem, there will be increasing economic pressure for residential development of the valley, and there will be more recreational pressure."
Billick also notes that "the U.S. Forest Service has fewer resources to manage the valley and that the transportation system that serves the valley is inadequate to handle the numbers of individuals currently using it, much less accommodate increased traffic in the future."
Billick says the Upper East River Valley has been changing dramatically since the miners showed up in 1879, and change will continue regardless of what happens on Snodgrass. "We look forward to discussions with all involved entities to see whether the proposed expansion will undermine scientific research, or rather, will be an opportunity to channel that change and establish a vision for the valley of which we can all be proud," he says.
How long has the Snodgrass issue been around?
Snodgrass has been an issue since 1982, when the Forest Service approved a CBMR proposal to develop the mountain to increase more intermediate skier terrain. However, the plans fell short when the resort was unable to move ahead due to financial trouble.
In 1994, the resort forwarded its second request to expand onto Snodgrass, including plans for 11 new lifts and other amenities.
In the face of substantial community opposition, then-GMUG forest supervisor Bob Storch informed CBMR, "The will of the people who live in Gunnison County will be a very important factor" in the ultimate decision about Snodgrass. In 1996, the resort put the project on the "back burner," citing community opposition and other factors.