Task force tackles Breckenridge expansion
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. ” In a small room tucked away deep inside Breckenridge Town Hall, a new task force on Monday began delving into the contentious public-lands issues surrounding a proposal by the Breckenridge Ski Resort to expand onto Peak 6.
Originally conceived as an communitywide forum, the meeting of a handful of invited participants and a couple of observers was intended to be a first step toward hammering out disagreements over the planned 450-acre expansion.
Lucy Kay, the resort’s chief operating officer, and Rick Sramek, vice president of operations, created the task force after more than 100 public comments criticizing the plan were submitted to the U.S. Forest Service.
The group ” including local government leaders and a representative of the Forest Service ” aims to address issues such as parking, resort capacity and employment shortages that could arise or be exacerbated as a result of the expansion.
An early priority is to gather town and county comprehensive plans, the town’s capacity analysis, the Cucumber Gulch recreation plan, and health- and housing-needs analyses to determine the possible impacts of the development.
The National Environmental Policy Act requires the agency to evaluate the impacts of proposed developments on recreation, wildlife and soil and air quality, but these aren’t to be part of the task-force discussions.
Breckenridge Town Council member Dave Rossi, who was invited to represent the town on the task force, said he hopes the process addresses why the project is needed before delving into how impacts will be mitigated.
He also advocated allowing a broader range of voices to be heard.
“I am very concerned about public involvement and transparency,” he said.
Kay responded that the written public comments to the Forest Service sufficiently expressed critics’ concerns, but she supported adding another voice from the town’s business community to the task force.
The Town Council was expected to select that individual Tuesday to join business owner Dick Carlton on the informal panel.
Ryan Demmy Bidwell, executive director of ski-industry watchdog Colorado Wild, said his organization asked to be involved in Monday’s discussion but was not invited.
The task force is not mandated by Forest Service rules and has been convened solely by Breckenridge ski resort officials.
Their proposal, available at http://www.dillonrangerdistrict.com/projects.htm, calls for expanding the ski area by 285 acres above treeline and 67 acres below treeline. A warming hut, ski-patrol station and base-area restaurant also are included in plans.
Public comments filed with the Forest Service suggested the resort could improve existing services to better accommodate guests without carving up more of the forest.
Others asked that the resort postpone its plans, questioning whether it is wise to develop when the national economy is uncertain and many trees will soon lay waste as a result of the mountain pine-beetle epidemic.
The agency has hired Jason Marks, a senior environmental manager with Sno-Engineering of Frisco, to oversee the environmental review that will determine whether the project may proceed.
Sno-Engineering also works for Vail Resorts, designing plans for the Peak 6 expansion. It has worked with the resort since the early 1990s on projects such as the BreckConnect Gondola and the Imperial Express Chair.
Bidwell said Sno-Engineering’s work on behalf of both the resort and the Forest Service is not unusual, although he believes it poses a conflict of interest.
“They basically do all (environmental reviews) and also provide other services to the ski industry,” he said. “They sort of have a monopoly on this business.”
The task force is scheduled to meet biweekly through December.
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