Snodgrass skiing expansion still waiting for NEPA

Potential conflict prohibits county from comment

The U.S. Forest Service still hasn’t come to a decision on whether or not to allow Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) to expand lift-served skiing onto Snodgrass Mountain, or even whether to allow it into the NEPA review process. But it isn’t because Gunnison County has withheld a comment for or against the proposal.



Forest Service supervisor Charlie Richmond said his office is still in the process of reviewing the proposal and the resort’s master development plan. Without giving a timeline for completion of the review, he said a decision would be made “relatively soon.”
The Gunnison Board of County Commissioners wrote a letter to Richmond Tuesday, October 20 saying it did not want the Forest Service decision to hinge on a county comment, because there probably wouldn’t be one.
In the letter, the commissioners tell the Forest Service that it would be improper for the county to comment on the proposal because once it passes through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review, the proposal would most likely then have to pass through a county review process.
The correspondence is meant to clear up some miscommunication between the county and Richmond’s office. Forest Service representatives apparently told the ski company that CBMR wouldn’t get a decision until Gunnison County weighed in.
The letter from the county states, “Because of our regulatory process, we are limited in our ability to comment on certain projects that are up for your review that would also come under ‘quasi-judicial’ proceedings in Gunnison County.”
Commission chairperson Paula Swenson said, “There has been pressure from the Forest Service for the county to make a comment. We were told that unless [Richmond] got buy-in from the county, he couldn’t make a decision.”
Swenson said she told Richmond in no uncertain terms that the county would not be making a comment and that the Forest Service should move forward with its decision. She also asked county attorney David Baumgarten to send Richmond a letter with the reasoning behind the county’s hands-off approach.
The “quasi-judicial proceedings” referenced in the letter would most likely be a part of a review of the proposal under the county’s Special Development Project Resolution, which was passed earlier this year to regulate mega projects in the county.
But the Forest Service, along with mega project proponents like CBMR and the Mt. Emmons Moly Company, has repeatedly questioned the county’s position of power. They say the county isn’t guaranteed the right to overrule an affirmative decision by the Forest Service, especially when a project is on National Forest land.
“The Forest Service should not even think about our separate process while it does its own NEPA review. Our process should have nothing to do with theirs,” Swenson said. “If they do deny moving the proposal through the NEPA process and cite the BOCC, then it looks like we’ve been trying to stop the expansion through the back door, and that’s just not the case.”
Richmond said his office would like to hear what the commissioners think of the Snodgrass proposal, but noted that the Forest Service wouldn’t withhold a decision until they got a comment from the County.
“We’re not going to do that,” he said. “We’ve talked to the county all along to see what kind of input they want to have in the review process and frankly it’s a little confusing how they can be involved in the decision through their [Special Development Project Resolution].”
The county has maintained throughout the process that it has the legal authority to regulate projects of major significance.
Legal questions aside, the county maintains they “cannot submit a letter of support or opposition regarding this application. Nor should the US Forest Service construe the lack of such letter as lack of support and deny the application to move forward based on the county’s inability to weigh in,” according to the letter.
Richmond said when the Forest Service does reach a decision, it will issue a letter explaining its position in support or opposition of the proposed expansion onto Snodgrass Mountain.
“There won’t be any surprises,” he said.

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