Forest Service rescinds Burnt Mountain OK
The U.S. Forest Service has rescinded approvals it granted last month for the Aspen Skiing Co.’s expansion onto Burnt Mountain and replacement of the Sheer Bliss chairlift at Snowmass.Although the reversal may be nothing more than a temporary bureaucratic delay, the issue is at the heart of an intense dispute that popped up earlier this month between the national ski industry and Forest Service.The Snowmass approvals were yanked because they were made by the top official in the Aspen office but not by his boss, the White River National Forest supervisor.”We’re kind of in a mating dance over who’s the appropriate person to sign,” said Jim Stark, the winter sports administrator in the Aspen Ranger District. That same mating dance occurred earlier this year at Breckenridge. The district ranger there approved a controversial chairlift in January. But in March, a “regional review team” from within the Forest Service advised that the district ranger may have overstepped his boundaries. The team advised that the chairlift should have been reviewed by the forest supervisor.In light of that development, the forest supervisor’s office informed the Aspen district that its decision on the Snowmass projects should also be withdrawn and reviewed by the forest supervisor.Stark said the decision will be officially rescinded as of Monday.To further complicate the bureaucratic mess, a new forest supervisor took office this month. Maribeth Gustafson came to the White River National Forest from Lake Tahoe.Stark said the Forest Service’s backtracking won’t necessarily affect the Skico’s work. The Skico didn’t plan on replacing the slow, old Sheer Bliss double chair with a high-speed quad until summer 2006. The Skico also planned to wait until then to work on a traverse that would allow an additional 500 acres of “semi-backcountry” terrain to be used on Burnt Mountain.But the ski industry is angry about the precedent the decisions at Breckenridge and Snowmass could make. The National Ski Areas Association, an industry lobbying organization, is taking its case to Washington, D.C.The NSAA sent a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth earlier this month demanding that the Forest Service continue to delegate authority for decisions to district rangers rather than making everything go through the forest supervisor.”The ability of a District Ranger to sign (National Environmental Protection Act) documents allows for efficient, timely and local decision-making, and it should be encouraged, rather than discouraged, within the agency,” NSAA President Michael Berry wrote to Bosworth.To yank an approval and require it to be reviewed again by the forest supervisor is “mismanagement” of the process, Berry alleged.”For the sake of our partnership and on behalf of all of our ski area members operating on public land, we need assurances that this type of mismanagement won’t happen again,” Berry’s letter said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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