Irwin snowcat proponents making revisions to plan

Forest Service decision likely pushed back

Given the amount of recent public feedback and the issues raised in the last month, the proposed snowcat ski operation for the Irwin area is being analyzed further by the proponents and U.S. Forest Service. That analysis will likely postpone a decision on the proposal that was originally expected to come in late August or early September.

 

 

According to Irwin Backcountry Guides (IBG)  mountain manager Alan Bernholtz, the group is planning to hold a public forum to present revisions to the plan in early July. No date or place has yet been set. IBG representatives are scheduled to meet with Forest Service officials June 15 to evaluate the public comments received during the scoping period.
“We want to evaluate the public comment and we are trying to mitigate the concerns that have been voiced,” Bernholtz said. “We appreciate the feedback and will utilize it to make changes to the plan.”
Kai Allen, U.S. Forest Service snow ranger for the Gunnison Ranger District, said the June 15 meeting with IBG would result in a modified proposal. “We will meet with them and identify all the major issues,” he explained. “We’ll come up with different alternatives to deal with the comments and move toward an Environmental Assessment [EA]. It is in that process that we look at the comments, get our specialists together and move through the NEPA process. I’m sure it will involve some changes to the plan.”
Allen made it clear that the formal public comment period for the Forest Service at this stage is closed. May 30 was the deadline for formal public comment. “The public forum IBG wants to have in July is important to them and it is important to the Forest Service,” he said. “But, the next formal chance for the public to address the proposal is when the draft EA is available. There will be a public comment period for that. I can’t say when that will be. With the complexity of the issues that have emerged and the time needed to put together an EA, I can’t say with any certainty when the next formal comment period will be held.”
IBG had hoped to start snowcat ski operations this coming winter. Allen indicated that might not happen. “The timeline is hard to say at the moment,” he said. “Informally, the timeline originally had a Forest Service decision coming in the early fall. But now, the way NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] works, that’s probably no longer an option. We don’t have a timeline. The whole project is in wait-and-see mode at the moment. It’s dependent upon how we develop alternatives and the time it takes to do that. To try and pin down a timeline isn’t really feasible right now based on the
complexity of the project.”
The town of Crested Butte has been in the loop to look at revised changes that would impact the town’s watershed. “At the moment, the plan does not trigger our watershed permit requirements,” said town manager Susan Parker.
Bernholtz emphasized that a snowcat ski operation would be a nice addition to the valley. “The bottom line is that we are excited to do something that people will like,” said Bernholtz. “We believe it will be an added amenity to the area.”
The letters written by the town of Crested to IBG and the Forest Service concerning the snow cat ski proposal can be viewed online at www.crestedbuttenews.com.

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