Breckenridge task force chews on Peak 6 expansion issues
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. ” Chad Christy found himself in the unusual position of asking some tough questions Monday, when a task force tried to hammer out some of the issues associated with the proposed Peak 6 terrain addition at Breckenridge Ski Area in Colorado.
“Usually, I’m on the ski area coattails,” said Christy, who owns a property-management and rental company. He generally supports resort projects that bring more business to town, he explained.
But he decided to sit on the task force because of the upwelling of criticism during an early round of public input on the proposal.
“I thought it was important enough because there was such an outcry,” Christy said after the meeting. “What we do here is not going to keep them from expanding. But hopefully we’ll have some effect on some of these other things.”
Those other things include parking, affordable housing, transportation and social services. Everyone serving on the collaborative group agrees that those issues exist with or without the Peak 6 project.
But scores of public comments questioning the need for Peak 6 spurred the resort, the U.S. Forest Service, the Town and the county to sit down and try and hammer out some sort of agreement on how ” and whether ” the expansion would be some sort of tipping point that negatively affects the quality of life in Breckenridge.
Monday’s meeting was the first time the group delved into the meat of the issues.
Facilitator Sarah Stokes Alexander outlined a range of possible solutions, including on-mountain changes to the proposal, off-mountain agreements implemented to address impacts and the timing of the project.
Breckenridge proposed developing about 450 acres of terrain on Peak 6, north of the ski area’s existing trails.
The goal is to spread out skiers and snowboarders, especially on peak days, according to Rick Sramek, vice president of mountain operations.
A single lift would serve 285 acres above treeline and 67 acres on six trails below treeline. The ski area also plans to build a ski-patrol and warming hut and a base-area restaurant.
The resort has led the United States in skier visits in recent seasons and accommodates more visitors per acre than other local ski areas, including Copper and Vail, according to the Forest Service.
“Are the comments going to drive the Forest Service to look at alternatives?” Christy asked, wondering whether the group’s input will be used by the agency in a meaningful way.
“The Forest Service doesn’t have any teeth to say: ‘You have to put a stoplight in,'” he continued. “We can’t find one example of where comments did anything but slow a project down.”
Since the ski area operates on national-forest land, the agency has the ultimate say-so over the expansion. Christy said he was skeptical that the task force feedback would have any impact on the process, and he wasn’t alone.
“It’s been said a few times: This is a moving target. The Forest Service has never listened to comments. They’ve never turned down a request,” said Breckenridge resident Jeffrey Bergeron, who is a town council member, but was speaking from the audience as a citizen.
“I’d like some assurance from you guys that we’re not just tap dancing,” Bergeron said. “When comments are asked for … and it’s never been denied, it frustrates the public.”
Forest Service snow ranger Shelly Grail explained that there have been proposed projects that go through the scoping phase but don’t win agency approval.
“We don’t just accept proposals willy-nilly,” she said.
Grail said that, from the agency’s standpoint, the social issues need to be addressed in any case.
“The same questions would have to be answered with the next proposal, whether it’s an expansion or within the permit area,” she said.
The task force is charged with answering the social questions, but there is clearly a faction in Breckenridge that does not support the expansion, regardless of whether the impacts can be mitigated.
In a way, the two groups are talking about different things, making the facilitated consensus-building process even more difficult.
Christy was looking for some measurable outcome from the task-force meetings, suggesting that success could be measured by whether public opinion on the Peak 6 proposal changes as a result of the group’s process.
Based on the public comments on Peak 6, Christy said he thinks there is a sizable segment of the town’s population that believes enough is enough.
Breckenridge Town Councilmember Dave Rossi said he’s concerned that there might be pressure to fast-track the project “just because the economy is bad.”
Bergeron also addressed the timing of the project, suggesting that the resort wait until the impacts from the large-scale residential and commercial development projects at Peak 7, Peak 8 and on the gondola parking-lot property are clearly understood.
Some future problems have already been approved but haven’t manifested themselves yet, he said, referring to potential impacts from more 700 residential units at the ski-area base.
“It’s difficult to fathom what our community is going to look like in five years,” he said, suggesting that Breckenridge is seeing a paradigm shift, from ski area to hospitality industry. That could have as-yet unknown effects, he said.
Rossi said the Peak 6 project is related to the resort’s desire to increase skier visits.
“Let’s be honest. This is a marketing thing to get more people here,” he said.
Still, he was glad to hear the Forest Service say it will consider the group’s input on par with information it gets from other sources ” for example the biological reports from state and federal wildlife agencies.
Resort officials frequently have said the expansion is aimed at meeting existing demand for upper intermediate terrain, not directly at stimulating growth in skier visits. Breckenridge Chief Operating Officer Lucy Kay said the same at Monday’s meeting.
“The demand comes first, then we fill the terrain. It will fill the day it opens,” Kay said.
Christy and Rossi said the resort could address much of the existing demand with so-called infill projects, including replacement of Chair 6 and C Chair and relocation of ski school facilities, but that those projects aren’t as sexy as a new peak from a marketing standpoint.
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