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Breckenridge: Peak 6 stakeholders strive for consensus

Peak 6 proposal at Breckenridge spurs continued discussions

A proposal to add new lift-served skiing on Peak 6 at Breckenridge has triggered in-depth discussions about how to address various impacts associated with increased resort development.

Interesting comment thread on this story over at TGR.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Some of the players have changed, but the issues remain the same for a community group charged with addressing the socio-economic impacts of a proposal to increase the capacity of Breckenridge Ski Area by 8 percent with a new lift and trails on Peak 6.

The Breckenridge Town Council and the Summit County commissioners met in a joint work session Tuesday to review the work of a task force that convened more than a year ago to tackle those questions. Based on the discussion, the stakeholders are still far apart when it comes to addressing some of the most critical concerns.

Click here to read a copy of the working document used by the stakeholders.

“I feel like I went to a gang fight and forgot my gang,” Breckenridge council member Jeffrey Bergeron quipped after the meeting, referring to some of the apparent divisions among the elected public servants.

Some of the town council members seemed ready to sign off on the draft document that was presented without much more discussion. Others, including Bergeron and county commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, who also served on the task force, said the draft MOU fell short of meeting the original goals, especially in the critical area of social services.

Stiegelmeier said that, with a huge increase in the demand for those services in the past year, it’s more important than ever to work collaboratively to ensure that any new impacts are adequately addressed.

Goals
The task force — including representatives from both governments, as well as the Breckenridge business community — was started by former Breckenridge Ski Area VP Lucy Kay after the expansion proposal elicited more than a 100 critical comments. Many residents expressed similar concerns about impacts to parking, traffic congestion, child care, housing, as well as general quality of life issues. The general feeling was that Breckenridge is close to a tipping point with regard to quality of life.

The goal of the group was to develop a memorandum of understanding that would outline ways for stakeholders to work together to avoid or mitigate new impacts from increased capacity at the ski area. The document could also be used by the Forest Service as part of its environmental impact statement for the project. Since its inception, there have been several key personnel changes at the resort, and the composition of the town council has also changed.

The agreement
With a number of attorneys in the room, including former Breckenridge Mayor Steve West representing Vail Resorts, it was clear that part of the discussion revolved around parsing legal language. A red-lined version of the MOU reinforced that perception.

A county map shows a pair of private inhodings near the base of Peaks 6 and 7.

There was general consensus on the first section of the MOU dealing with potential development at the base of Peak 6. As outlined in the draft, Vail Resorts agrees that it won’t “apply for or undertake any residential or commercial development at the base of Peak 6,” and that the Peak 6 project is foreseeably the last terrain expansion in the Tenmile Range.There was some discussion related to some private land inholdings in between Peak 6 and Peak 7, and some concern that Vail Resorts can’t control what some other property owner might do.

Still, some town council members wanted more enforceable language in the document to hold any future owners or potential developers to the spirit of the agreement.

“We need to put some kind of teeth in this to prevent development at base of Peak 6,” said council member Eric Mamula, advocating for language that would spell out the intent of the agreement to prevent “Peak 6 from becoming another Peak 7, 8, 9 and 10,” Mamula said.

“This needs more teeth,” Bergeron agreed. “I’ve seen more teeth at the senior center.”

Town manager Tim Gagen cautioned that the ski area does not control the private inholdings. Council member Jen McAtamney said the language should reflect the intent to make the document live into the future, making it binding to any future owners or operators of the resort.

The MOU also addresses housing with the goal of avoiding negative impacts on the supply of employee housing in the Upper Blue Basin “directly resulting from employees added to BSR’s workforce in connection with the operation” of new Peak 6 facilities. The resort will dedicate deed restricted units at Breckenridge Terrace to meet the requirement.

Social services

The social services section of the MOU generated the most discussion, as the elected officials grappled with how to quantify added demand from the proposed Peak 6 project.

Stiegelmeier said the draft language in the MOU is “extremely confusing” and suggested that the entire section needs to be rewritten.

“There is not one commitment in here,” said council member Mark Burke. “If the intent of the task force was commitment, I don’t see it,” he added, describing the language as vague.

Further discussion ensued over whether the MOU should cover just any incremental impacts from the proposed Peak 6 project, or if it should address social service impacts on a broader, cumulative scale. If so, how should Vail Resorts be held accountable?

“We tried  to get more teeth in some of this, but social services a difficult area,” said task force member Dick Carleton. We all know that big companies can change hands and turn on a dime. What we do know is there are a large number of ski area employees who tax our social services.”

“It’s a really complex issue. It’s broader than just the ski area,” said ski area chief operating officer Pat Campbell. “It’s a slippery slope for us to sit here and … as one business operator, to agree to (specific) commitments.”

Addressing the scope of the MOU, attorney Steve West said, “Vail Resorts didn’t agree to deal with all the social service issues of the last 50 years.”

All in all, there was very little agreement in this area, and it was clear there is still work to be done to find a resolution. Based in the existing language in the MOU, Stiegelmeier said she didn’t see how the task force, or the commissioners, could go to the Forest Service and say that these issues have been mitigated.

There was also disagreement about how to address parking impacts. Carleton said the impacts of the Peak 6 project could be clearly quantified and addressed. When he expanded his restaurant, he paid $40,000 to the parking district. He suggested the Peak 6 project could be handled similarly and should be included in the MOU. Other council members wanted to defer a decision on the parking issue and include it in the upcoming talks on development plans for the Vail-owned parking lots around the base of the gondola.

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2 Responses

  1. If Peak 6 is “foreseeably the last terrain expansion in the Tenmile Range”, why not make Peak 7 the last one instead? Vail Resorts can’t continue expanding ad infinitum. Isn’t it time for a new business plan with a different mindset than constant expansion?

    • Great question, Jenney, there are a lot of good questions about this expansion and I think Breckenridge residents asked many of them during the initial Forest Service scoping. That’s part of what the task force is trying to answer. Additionally, there are many unanswered questions about natural resource impacts. We’ll see how the FS answers those in the draft EIS.

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