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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

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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

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 wins Forest Service OK, but community concerns, and some hard feelings, remain

45-day appeal period starts when the decision is formally published

Community interest led to a Forest Service-led site visit last summer, attended by dozens of Breckenridge residents and visitors.

By Bob Berwyn

* Background and stories detailing the four-year process at this Summit Voice page.

* More details on the decision here.

SUMMIT COUNTY — White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said Tuesday his decision to approve a 550-acre expansion at Breckenridge Ski Resort is an appropriate balance between resource conservation and recreational use of the forest, but some critics of the expansion remain unconvinced.

Fitzwilliams acknowledged that the expansion will affect 81 acres of habitat for threatened lynx, but promised that the Forest Service will work with community partners to improve the overall conditions of surrounding forests, with an eye toward restoring important wildlife habitat.

“No question, there are impacts, and I think we’ve disclosed them in a fair and balanced manner … and through mitigation and design criteria, we can mitigate them to the point where they are acceptable,” Fitzwilliams said during a media conference call on the Peak 6 decision.

The expansion has been in the works since 2008, when a scoping open house in Breckenridge drew about 200 critical comments that questioned the basic rationale for the expansion and outlined concern about impacts to the environment and the local community, including parking, housing, childcare and overall resort growth. Continue reading

Opinion: Some funky moves in the Peak 6 poker game

Part of the proposed Peak 6 expansion terrain at Breckenridge.

“You got to know when to hold ‘em …

By Bob Berwyn

In the latest round of poker over a proposed ski area expansion at Breckenridge, the resort this week backed away from its clumsy bluff to withdraw from a multiparty agreement aimed at addressing some of the potential social issues associated with ski resort growth.

What struck me was that the company reversed course without any apparent reference to the well-documented earlier threats, which at least one respected member of the business community likened to blackmail.

At the same time, the resort said it wouldn’t pursue a restaurant as part of the expansion, partly as a gesture of appeasement to town business owners, and partly as a strategically timed move to show some give a few days in advance of a town-hosted open house on the expansion proposal — no doubt after the Vail Resorts bean counters frantically scribbled calculations on exactly how much revenue such a facility would generate.

The resort hopes that giving up the restaurant will be seen as a discarded ace, but in reality, it’s just a throw -away deuce of spades — another bluff, if you will. Giving up the restaurant may satisfy a few grumbling local restaurateurs, but isn’t very significant in the big picture. It’s hard to imagine skiers on the new Peak 6 terrain streaming all the way back into town for lunch; they’ll just end up back at the Peak 7 or Peak 8 base, which is where the resort wants them to begin with. Continue reading

Breckenridge: More time to comment on Peak 6 plan

White River forest supervisor extends comment period, says he’s open to new ideas on alternatives for Breckenridge ski area expansion proposal

A lunch break at the site of the proposed new Peak 6 chair (under the alternative preferred by the resort) at Breckenridge gave people a chance to sit and talk informally about the proposed ski area expansion with the officials who the most about the project.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Acknowledging the complex issues associated with a proposed ski area expansion at Breckenridge Resort, White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams this week extended the public comment period for another month, through August 26, and said he’s open to new ideas to help shape a final version of the plan later this year. The draft environmental impact statement and commenting information is online here. Continue reading

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