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Breckenridge town council to take a hard look at Peak 6 plan

A crowd of people turned out recently for site visit to the proposed Peak 6 expansion area.

Public input wanted at July 26 work session as town formulates comments

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Breckenridge Town Council this week will consider a host of issues related to a proposed expansion on Peak 6, including impacts to forest and wildlife, plans for a proposed restaurant as part of the expansion and the cumulative impacts of the expansion. Get more background on the proposal and read past stories at the Summit Voice Peak 6 page.

At issue is a contentious plan to add several hundred acres of new lift-served terrain and expanding the resort’s footprint by another couple of miles across the Tenmile Range. The town is in the process of developing its formal comment letter on the plan. More details and all the public project documents are online at http://breckenridgepeak6.com/.

The Forest Service draft study for the proposal includes three options. The no-action alternative provides a baseline for comparison, alternative 2 is the preferred option of the Forest Service and the resort, while alternative 3 is a scaled-back version of the plan that is seen my many residents as a viable compromise that meets some of the resort’s objectives while leaving a smaller footprint on the land.

Impacts to lynx habitat are among the items singled out in a memo to council from the community development department. The memo is online here as part of the town council packet.

“Given the the apparent disproportionate importance of the spruce/fir habitat for lynx, it seems that the DEIS should further note the impacts of losing more of this important habitat as a result of Alternatives 2 and 3,” the memo states, referring to a shaky section of the Forest Service draft study that addresses lynx impacts.

Among the big question marks is the Forest Service proposal to amend parts of the White River Forest plan that identify lynx habitat. The proposed changes would enable Breckenridge to expand on Peak 6 without meeting very specific conservation standards related to habitat connectivity.

The memo also discusses potential impacts to backcountry recreation, specifically whether the draft environmental study includes adequate discussion of the displacement of a popular close-in backcountry venue.

The discussions will take place as part of a July 26 council work session, with the open house scheduled from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. As suggested by staff, the session would start with a short presentation from White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, followed a Q & A between the supervisor and the council. Then the council would take public comment from the audience before giving staff some direction on issues and comments that should be included in the town’s formal comment letter to the Forest Service.

The comment period on the draft study runs through Aug. 26. The town anticipates finalizing its comment letter an Aug. 23 council meeting.

From the memo:

•    With the devastation of the lodgepole forest in the wake of the pine beetle epidemic, our spruce/fir forests represent some of the healthier forest left in the area.

•    Spruce/fir forest provides some of the best habitat for a number of species, including lynx.

• The DEIS concludes that tree and vegetation removal is not an irreversible commitment/impact because vegetation is a renewable resource. While this statement is true to the extent that vegetation is renewable, it should be recognized that (particularly in the high elevation spruce/fir forest) it can take several hundred years to replicate forest conditions currently existing.

•    We question how successful the ski area will be at preserving “legacy trees” under Alternative 2.
Alternative 2 states that legacy trees will be preserved to the “maximum extent practicable”. However, the proposed conventional ski trails under Alternative 2 involved clear-cutting of trail areas. The ski area is not favorable to leaving isolated trees on the ski run because of conflicts with grooming operations. Some tree “islands” could be left to protect legacy trees, but it seems uncertain whether this approach will be successful, particularly in the long term as windblow, grooming, and other factors threaten their survival. The gladed approach under Alternative 3 seems much more practical in being able to actually preserve legacy trees.

• Although the speculation that less skiers will use inter-trail islands under the conventional trail scenario of Alternative 2 compared to the gladed trails of Alternative 3 seems reasonable, we do question if this in fact will be the case. The existing inter-trail islands on Peaks 7 and 8, for example, receive a fair amount of use even though they are adjacent to conventional ski trails. Factors such as openness of the forest and the ability of the ski area to actively manage these intrusions may play an even more important role in determining the effectiveness of inter-trail islands as habitat areas.

The memo offers a thorough discussion of many Peak 6 issues. It’s available as part of the packet for the July 26 meeting at the town council website.

A July 12 Denver Post article on the expansion proposal seems to swallow the resort and Forest Service hook, line and sinker by devoting the first three graphs to talking about how crowded Breck is, without any mention of other ways to reduce crowding. The story is superficially objective because it quotes both “sides,” but it’s not intellectually honest.

Local and statewide opposition to the project is rallying around this Facebook page.

The resort also has a Facebook page for Peak 6.

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