Breckenridge Town Council may ask the U.S. Forest Service to delay Peak 6 approval pending completion of a lynx study

A map showing one of the alternatives for the proposed Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge Ski Area. Click for a full-size version.

Town council and Summit County Commissioners will finalize formal comments on controversial ski area expansion proposal

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Based on a draft comment letter to the Forest Service, the Breckenridge Town council is prepared to take a strong stance on the proposed Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge Ski Area, asking the agency to set a cap on daily skier visits and delay approval of the Peak 6 plan until a ski area lynx study at Silverton Mountain has been completed.

The draft letter is up for discussion at the Aug. 23 town council meeting beginning at about 3:45 p.m. The draft letter also questions whether the Forest Service preferred alternative includes enough legitimate intermediate terrain to accommodate the stated purpose of the expansion, which is to disperse skiers and alleviate crowding on existing terrain.

The council’s position probably won’t satisfy some critics of the Peak 6 proposal, who had hoped that the council would wholly endorse a no-action alternative, included by the Forest Service as a baseline against which to measure the impacts of the other two action alternatives.

As discussed at a council work session two weeks ago, the letter also asks the Forest Service and the ski area to define a daily on-mountain capacity as a target for the ski area not to exceed, and leaves it up to the agency and the resort to figure out how to stay under that cap.

Several specific comments in the letter may be subject to revision pending the Aug 23 council discussion. While the introductory section of the letter says there is some consensus among town council members, the discussion two weeks ago showed some divisions among the council.

Based on the draft letter, the council may also ask the Forest Service and resort to prioritize lift improvements within the existing ski area footprint and set a schedule for implementation of those upgrades as an additional way to alleviate congestion. But according to a note included as part of the draft letter, the council may revisit that particular comment.

County Commissioners

The Summit County commissioners will also finalize their comments on the Peak 6 proposal during a morning work session on Aug. 23, scheduled for 10:15 a.m.

According to assistant county manager Thad Noll, the commissioners will be focusing in part on a multi-party MOU developed to address social impacts (parking, housing, childcare, etc.) of ski area expansions in general.

The commissioners would like to see the Forest Service incorporate a similar process into any future resort expansion plans in the county, Noll said, adding that it should be an enforceable part of the Forest Service approval process.

The Peak 6 MOU was finalized too late to be included in the draft study for the project, which may somewhat limit the ability of the Forest Service use the agreement as part of the final approval.

Text of draft Town of Breckenridge letter:

Scott Fitzwilliams, Forest Supervisor, c/o Joe Foreman, White River National Forest, P.O. Box 620, Silverthorne, CO 80498.

RE: Peak 6 Draft Environmental Impact Statement Comments

Dear Mr. Fitzwilliams:
Thank you for working with the Town of Breckenridge to extend the public comment period on the DEIS for the proposed Peak 6 expansion, and for making your staff accessible to help us understand the many complex issues involved in making this decision. The extra time has enabled us to get a better understanding of the issues and the opinions of the residents of Breckenridge.

The proposal to expand ski terrain at the Breckenridge Ski Area is of great importance to the Town for many reasons. Because of that the Town and Summit County have spent a considerable amount of time meeting with representatives of the Ski Area to work out solutions to off mountain impacts to the community that are associated with the expansion. Those solutions are memorialized in an MOU between those three parties.

This set of comments is derived from comments received at a public open house that was held on July 26, 2011, numerous letters and verbal input, and Town Council member expressed concerns. These comments represent a consensus position on the part of the Breckenridge Town Council. Many of the issues of concern are common to more than one alternative, thus they are grouped according to three differing combinations of alternatives. Those comments are as follows.

Comments pertaining to Alternatives 1, 2 and 3

1.    Illegal parking at the Peaks trail head and the Green Gate – The current situation with unauthorized parking in these two areas is unacceptable and will be exacerbated by additional skiers attracted by an expansion onto Peak 6 terrain. Illegal parking in these two locations by alpine skier guests will displace parking for the Nordic and back country skiers it was intended for. Consider relocating the Peaks trail head possibly to the Town owned MBJ property or other similarly located USFS property that is not so convenient to access the Peak 7 base facilities.

2.    On mountain capacity – there should be a defined daily mountain capacity which serves as a target for the Ski Area not to exceed, which in turn will lessen in-Town capacity impacts on peak days. The methods utilized to stay below that target should be developed by the Ski Area (and the Forest service as appropriate).

3.    Prioritize the lift improvements within the existing footprint of the Ski Area (A Chair, C Chair, 6 Chair, and the Colorado Super Chair) and provide a schedule for implementation. Note: unclear if the Council is rethinking this comment.

4.    Schedule a completion date for the Peak 7 restaurant. Note: I didn’t have a clear direction from TC in my notes on this one.

Comments pertaining to Alternatives 2 and 3

5.    Social Issues MOU – this document should be attached to the Record of Decision (ROD) as a reference document corollary to the ROD, and used as a mechanism to address the additive social impacts imposed on the community as a result of the selection of an action alternative. The MOU should be the “road map” for discussion topics addressed in the “joint agency and resort management response process to limit and better accommodate anticipated visitation at BSR”, that is called for in the DEIS, (Chapter 2 Description of Alternatives Project Design Criteria). The mitigation of identified impacts in the MOU generated by the Peak 6 expansion on social services and transportation and parking are especially well suited for this process. It should be a requirement of the ROD that BSR fully participate as a principal member in that process.

6.    Legacy and old growth tree cutting – Do not cut legacy trees and old growth forest, even if it means that some of the proposed ski runs need to be realigned.

7.    Best management practices – Minimizing potential resource impacts from construction and the implementation of any approved projects is very important. The Project Design Criteria identified in the DEIS should be verified on the ground for proper implementation and regularly monitored for effectiveness throughout the term of the construction activity, and beyond as may be appropriate (for issues such as noxious weed control, stormwater runoff and water quality, etc.).

8.    In order to meet the purpose and need for the expansion, it is important that the ski area use best practices so terrain is managed in such a way as to be open early in the day on a daily basis, and that a grooming plan be implemented that further accomplishes purpose and need goals of providing intermediate ski terrain.

9.    Pending the release of the Lynx study being conducted in Silverton regarding Ski Area/lynx impacts, Lynx habitat compatibility should be evaluated against the study’s findings and precede any decision on expansion.

10. Back country access to the north of the expansion area should be accommodated. Gates should be provided from the expansion area, and the Peak 7 neighborhood (more specifically, in the immediate vicinity of Slalom Dr.).

11. Any new lift developed on Peak 6 should be a “bottom drive” lift, and thereby avoid creating additional ground disturbance for roads and utility lines associated with “top drive” technology.

Comments pertaining to Alternative 2

12. The proposed restaurant on Peak 6 should be clearly and formally deleted from the proposal in the ROD.

13. *The new lift on Peak 6 should either terminate at tree line or have a mid-station unload at tree line so intermediate terrain can be accessed without having to ride to the top of the lift.

14. *Terrain expansion should be limited to those areas on Peak 6 generally south of the proposed lift alignment.

15. *Alternative 2 lacks legitimate intermediate terrain in quantities significant enough to meet the purpose and need for the expansion.

16. It is not clear that the noise study that was conducted for the DEIS was sufficiently thorough and should be conducted again using testing methods that replicate more prevalent weather conditions, and avalanche control locations and methods. Note: the Council seemed to lack a majority to support making this comment.

*Council requested additional information on topographical maps to determine if these comments are still relevant.

On behalf of the Town Council of Breckenridge, I would like to express our appreciation to you and your staff for giving consideration to our comments. Town staff will be available to clarify issues and answer related questions that you may have.

Sincerely,

John Warner, Mayor, Town of Breckenridge

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