Forest Service: Lift 1A environmental review likely unnecessary
The U.S. Forest Service probably won’t need to do a lengthy environmental review for the new Lift 1A on Aspen Mountain because impacts will likely be minimal, an official said Tuesday.
“I expect that’s where we’ll be,” said Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor for the White River National Forest.
That’s because the new Lift 1A will come in contact with less than five acres of federal land, which allows it to be classified as a categorical exclusion to an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement, Fitzwilliams said. Both of those processes require extensive analysis.
Aspen Skiing Co. began the process of replacing Lift 1A, which was installed in 1972, in late October by asking the Forest Service to begin a formal environmental review for the project. Skico officials have said they need to replace the lift or risk losing the World Cup finals.
The new plan would replace the old lift with either a high-speed chairlift or a gondola. Plans currently call for the lift to start in the same spot and terminate about 200 feet southwest of the existing top terminal nearer to Ruthie’s Restaurant.
Fitzwilliams said the Forest Service will still conduct a “scoping” process, which includes gathering comments from the public until Nov. 30. Provided officials don’t encounter any issues that require the longer environmental impact process, he said he expects the exclusion to come into play.
In other words, the Forest Service is deciding how intricate its environmental review will be, he said. A decision on the new lift will be made after the first of the year, Fitzwilliams said.
But the Forest Service isn’t the only agency that will have a say in the Lift 1A project.
Pitkin County commissioners, who heard specifics about the lift at a work session Tuesday, and the city of Aspen also will have to approve aspects of the project. The city will approve base issues while the county will approve development up the mountain.
Ellen Sassano, senior long-range planner for the county’s community development department, told commissioners that, depending on what Skico decides, they might need to approve construction plans, excavating permits and minor changes to the Aspen Mountain Master Plan adopted in 1996-97.
Skico plans also might include using Ruthie’s Restaurant, which has been closed since fall 2001, for nighttime events, Sassano said.
Commissioner Rachel Richards said she thinks the Lift 1A side “is a great part of the mountain” and is looking forward to a re-opened Ruthie’s Restaurant.
“It will be great to see the restaurant open again,” she said. “And I’d be open to night use.”
Richards also asked about what will happen to the old Lift 1A line.
“My guess is we will leave it in a cut condition and allow people to ski it,” said David Corbin, Skico’s vice president for planning and development.
The old towers will be removed and the concrete foundations will be knocked down to the prevailing grade, he said.
Both Richards and Commissioner George Newman said they wanted to make sure the new Lift 1A remained accessible to the public.
“I don’t want to have the feeling of a private lift just for those folks who live over there,” Richards said.
Corbin said Skico doesn’t want that either, though there’s been no resolution between various development entities that want to build at the base of Lift 1A. He said there’s a possibility of a surface lift being built in the area, though it is not required.
Developers are hosting an open house with Skico representatives Dec. 3 at the Limelight Hotel about the Gorsuch Haus project at Lift 1A, which was described in a community mailer as “the historic portal to Aspen Mountain — revitalized and reimagined.”
A Skico spokesman has said that initiating the Forest Service review process opens the door to beginning construction on the new lift next summer.
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“I think it’s a super safe sport,” Colter Hinchliffe said as he began climbing. “You really push your limits physically and mentally, get stronger and find the edge of your own possibilities.”