Colorado: Conservation groups reach deal with Vail Resorts on Breck Peak 6 expansion and withdraw threat of lawsuit

Vail Resorts ups contribution to lynx conservation fund

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Development of the Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge Ski Area will probably begin sometime in the next few weeks and should be ready for skiing this coming season.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — There will be no lawsuit challenging the Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge Ski Area, as conservation groups say they’ve reached an agreement with Vail Resorts that will help ensure long-term conservation of threatened lynx in the area.

“Our main concern was lynx conservation,” said Rocky Mountain Wild attorney Matt Sandler, who was involved in the recent talks with Vail Resorts. As part of the agreement, Vail Resorts will up its contribution to a conservation fund that will be used for habitat improvements in the region, benefiting lynx and other species. Continue reading

Breckenridge Peak 6 expansion set to start within weeks

Forest Service says resort has submitted construction plans

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Work will soon begin on a long-planned ski terrain expansion at Breckenridge Ski Area unless opponents make a last-minute legal bid to stop the project.

See more Peak 6 stories here.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Forest Service rangers say they are in the process of reviewing the final plans for the planned Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge Ski Area. The clear-cutting of new ski trails could begin in just a few weeks, according to the agency.

The resort has submitted detailed plans for tree-cutting, erosion control, stormwater runoff and other aspects of the project, according to Shelly Grail,  a winter sports program administrator for the Dillon Ranger District.

Grail said the resort could start clear-cutting the new ski trails as early as mid-June, depending on the weather. The Forest Service has certain requirements regarding snow cover for tree removal operations, so the rate of snowmelt will affect the exact start date of the project. The Forest Service also will do some nesting surveys before work starts, she added. Continue reading

Colorado: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges lynx mistakes in Breckenridge Ski Area’s Peak 6 expansion plan

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A transplanted Canada lynx watches a Colorado Division of Wildlife biologist. Photo courtesy Tanya Shenk/ Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Federal approval missed a key step in addressing requirements of Endangered Species Act

Click here to read all Summit Voice Peak 6 stories

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Federal biologists have acknowledged that they left out a key step in their approval of the proposed Peak 6 ski area expansion at Breckenridge, a project that would degrade a patch of lynx habitat in the Tenmile Range.

“We reviewed the … biological opinion, and we agree that our incidental take statement lacks a meaningful mechanism to reinitiate consultation if the project exceeds the anticipated incidental take,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Western Colorado Supervisor Patricia Gelatt wrote in a March 6 letter responding to a formal legal notice from Rocky Mountain Wild and the Blue River Group of the Sierra Club.

Gelatt said her agency plans to meet with the Forest Service and modify its biological opinion to address the deficiencies before the Notice of Intent expires on April 19, but she didn’t explain how agency biologists missed including the required regulatory mechanisms after discussing the expansion with the Forest Service for several years. Continue reading

Colorado: U.S. Forest Service rejects appeal of Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge Ski Area

Opponents of controversial expansion considering legal action

The Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge Ski area would add about 550 acres of new terrain.

*Read all Summit Voice Peak 6 stories

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Barring legal action, Breckenridge Ski Area could start implementing the controversial Peak 6 expansion as soon as early December after regional Forest Service officials rejected an appeal filed by a coalition of conservation groups, skiers and local residents. Read the appeal here.

Scott Armentrout, Supervisor of the Gunnison, Uncompahgre and Grand Mesa National Forests, the appeal reviewing officer, wrote Nov. 14 that he found that the approval for the project did not violate any federal laws, regulations or policies and recommended upholding White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams’ decision to approve the 550-acre expansion.

The formal decision was made by appeals deciding officer Brian Ferebee, a deputy regional forester for resources. Read the full appeal decision here, and a summary of the appeal decision here.

“I agree with the ARO’s analysis as presented in the enclosed letter. All appeal issues raised have been considered and the record is adequate to support the Forest Supervisor’s decision,” Ferebee wrote in his Nov. 19 decision letter. “I affirm the Forest Supervisor’s decision to approve the Breckenridge Ski Area Peak 6 Project. I deny requested relief to set aside the decision or complete additional analysis.” Continue reading

Appeal filed on Breckenridge Peak 6 expansion

Critics claims Forest Service approval violates regulations and environmental laws

Critics have appealed the Forest Service approval for the Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge Ski Area. Map courtesy US Forest Service.

More stories:

Summit Voice Peak 6 page, with background stories

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Critics of the controversial Peak 6 expansion and Breckenridge Ski Area have formally appealed White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams approval of the project, charging that the agency violated its own regulations and federal environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act.

The appeal was delivered to the agency’s regional headquarters last week. Forest Service officials have 45 days to respond to the appeal, which was signed by 45 entities, including numerous Breckenridge residents, along with local, statewide and regional conservation groups. Read the appeal here. Continue reading

Critics plan appeal of Breckenridge Peak 6 expansion

DU Law Clinic may help with administrative or legal challenge

The Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge will very likely be appealed and a legal challenge is not out of the question. Click on the map a couple of times to see the full-size version.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The U.S. Forest Service approval of the Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge Ski Area probably won’t go unchallenged. Longtime critics of the project scrutinizing the the final environmental study say they are likely to appeal several elements of the decision, including, fundamentally, whether the expansion meets the stated purpose and need.

Vail Resorts claimed from the start that the new lifts and terrain will ease congestion at Breckenridge by spreading out skiers on peak visitation days, but at least some of the data in the Final Environmental Impact Statement seem to contradict that conclusion.

Skiers and snowboarders will still have to use the busiest lifts out of the Peak 8 base area to reach the new terrain. At one point in the document the Forest Service appears to flat-out acknowledge that the expansion won’t significantly shorten lift wait times on Peak 7 and Peak 8.

All the documents for the Peak 6 project are at this Forest Service website. Extensive background stories about Peak 6 are online at this Summit Voice page. Some of the ongoing community concerns and criticisms of the Forest Service decision are spelled out on the Save Peak 6 Facebook page.

Continue reading

Breckenridge: Peak 6 expansion decision due next month

Forest Service set to make final call on controversial ski area project

Breckenridge Peak 6 expansion proposal map.

A public site visit to the proposed Peak 6 expansion area drew a crowd.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal agencies are on track to release a final environmental study for a controversial ski area expansion at Breckenridge sometime in June, according to White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.

Click here to see all previous Summit Voice coverage of the Peak 6 process.

Most recently, the Forest Service submitted a biological study focusing mainly on lynx to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a required consultation under the Endangered Species Act.

Within 120 days, the Fish and Wildlife Service must respond with a formal biological opinion that evaluates and discloses impacts to listed species. The deadline is in early June, and the Fish and Wildlife Service is on track to meet that deadline, said Grand Junction-based USFWS biologist Kurt Broderdorp.

Since the two agencies have been communicating about the Peak 6 project for several years, Broderdorp said the Forest Service study didn’t include any groundbreaking information.

“It’s pretty straigthforward,” Broderdorp said, explaining that his agency must determine whether the proposed action will result in any significant adverse effects to lynx, the powder-loving wild cat that often wanders in the same terrain favored by Colorado skiers — shady, snow-coveredhigh-elevation slopes with thick clumps of spruce and fir trees. Continue reading

Ski area environmental rankings released

Peak 6 expansion a black eye for Breckenridge

How well does your favorite resort rank in environmental performance.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The controversy swirling around the proposed Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge Ski Area is reflected in the latest edition of the Ski Area Environmental Report Card.

The Summit County ski area received one of the lowest grades in the state and country based on the potential impacts that the expansion would have on forests, wildlife habitat and other natural resources.

1 (A) Aspen Highlands Ski Resort 88.1%
2 (A) Aspen Mountain Ski Resort 85.7%
3 (A) Buttermilk Mountain Ski Resort 85.2%
4 (A) Snowmass Ski Resort 81.2%
5 (A) Wolf Creek Ski Area 81%
6 (B) Vail Ski Resort 74.9%
7 (B) Arapahoe Basin Ski Area 74.1%
8 (B) Loveland Ski Area 73.7%
9 (B) Telluride Ski Resort 73.3%
10 (B) Beaver Creek Resort 72.2%
11 (B) Crested Butte Mountain Resort 71.7%
12 (B) Durango Mountain Resort 70.7%
13 (B) Winter Park Resort 70.3%
14 (B) Monarch Ski and Snowboard Area 69.6%
15 (B) Steamboat Ski & Resort 69%
16 (C) Powderhorn Resort 67.1%
17 (C) Keystone Ski Resort 66.9%
18 (C) Eldora Mountain Resort 64.2%
19 (C) Copper Mountain Ski Resort 64.1%
20 (D) Breckenridge Ski Resort 50.1%

Continue reading

Breckenridge: Peak 6 comment period winding down

A flow chart shows the timeline of the Peak 6 decision-making process. Click on the image to see a full-size version.

Long-term ski area growth questions linger

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — After two extensions, a public comment period on the proposal to add several hundred acres of new lift-served terrain at Breckenridge is coming to an end Aug 26, and the Peak 6 expansion is no less controversial now than when it was first proposed publicly in 2008.

The public debate about the expansion shows how ski communities in general are divided on ski area growth. There is strong support for the expansion plan from part of the town’s business community, including the Breckenridge Restaurant Association and some other ski-related businesses. Other residents feel strongly that the resort is big enough and that additional growth will undermine quality of life in the community.

Resort leaders say the plan to add new terrain served by a six-seat chair will help disperse skiers and riders across Colorado’s busiest ski area, easing congestion on existing lifts and trails. Critics of the plan say it will attract more visitors, ultimately resulting in even more crowding, both on the mountain and in the town.

There’s still time to get informed about the proposal by visiting the official Peak 6 website, which offers great access to information about the project and links for submitting comments. You can also read background stories on Peak 6 and listen to several town council discussions about the project by visiting the Summit Voice Peak 6 page. Continue reading

Breckenridge: Town council looks for Peak 6 consensus

Breckenridge Town Council members are formulating comments on the draft study for a proposed expansion on to Peak 6.

Elected representatives about to comment on draft ski area expansion plan in the name of the town and its citizens

By Bob Berwyn & Jenney Coberly

BRECKENRIDGE — Some town council members said they want Breckenridge Ski Resort to consider blackout dates, upgrades to existing lifts and an overall cap on skiers to address the issue of skier congestion that has taken center stage during the recent discussions about a controversial plan to add lift-served skiing in Peak 6.

Those ideas, and more, surfaced Aug. 9 during a council work session aimed at writing a set of formal comments to the Forest Service. The agency is currently taking comments on a draft environmental study on the proposal. Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams has picked a preferred alternative that would add about 550 acres of new terrain and a six-seat lift on Peak 6. Detailed project and comment information is online at http://breckenridgepeak6.com/

Most council members were quite outspoken about what they want to tell the agency, while a few demurred on making direct comments, citing concerns about a divided town and divided town council.

In absentia, Mayor John Warner said the resort should create a five to seven-year plan for upgrading existing lifts, and work to mitigate impacts to backcountry skiers by adding a new backcountry access point and new trailhead.

Council member Jen McAtamney said the Forest Service should wait to amend forest plan wildlife conservation standards until there is more information on lynx movement in the Tenmile Range.

Council member Jeffrey Bergeron said the draft study doesn’t pass the sniff test, and that he, for one, is not ready to make Peak 6 a sacrificial lamb to the altar of ski area expansion. Listen to the entire discussion in the following audio clip and read more Summit Voice stories on Peak 6 here for background.


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