Resort pressures town council to support more ski area development
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — A carefully crafted agreement between Vail Resorts, the town of Breckenridge and Summit County may be at risk after Breckenridge ski area officials delivered an ultimatum of sorts to the Breckenridge Town Council, threatening to pull out of the deal unless the town fully supports a proposed expansion on Peak 6.
Both Breckenridge Mayor John Warner and town manager Tim Gagen were called by ski resort chief Pat Campbell, who said the resort won’t sign on to the memorandum of understanding unless the town supports the full-scale version of the expansion, rather than a modified option seen by many residents as a palatable alternative to the original proposal.
“The contact was with Pat Campbell,” Gagen said a day after the issue was discussed by the council. “In my case, it was fairly direct. She said if council doesn’t go along with the preferred alternative, the resort won’t sign the MOU … I’ve never quite experienced anything like this … maybe it’s happened over in Vail,” Gagen said.
According to Gagen, Breckenridge Mayor John Warner received a similar call. Vail Resorts officials have also been visiting with members of the business community to rally support for the full-on Peak 6 development proposal, he said.
*Background, stories and audio reports on Peak 6 are online here: https://summitcountyvoice.com/breckenridge-peak-6-expansion/
The entire draft proposal is online here: www.BreckenridgePeak6.com
The ultimatum was not well-received by many council members, with the message back to Vail Resorts being, “We don’t do business like this. You don’t threaten the council and try to force our hand,” Gagen said.
“I’m a little stunned and disappointed,” said council member Eric Mamula, describing the threat as a sign of bad faith on the part of Vail Resorts. “We had said during the (MOU) process that we reserve the right to comment on the EIS,” he added. “Don’t tell me what I can think.”
Council member Jennifer McAtameny said she thinks the whole thing could be attributed to miscommunication and crossed wires. She thinks the differences can be resolved, with the ultimate goal of incorporating the MOU into the final Forest Service approval for the project.
Vail Resorts responded to email questions about the controversy with a formal “no comment,” but in a Summit Daily News story, spokesperson Kristin Williams was quoted as saying that the company felt there were “mutual commitments” associated with the agreement, and that the company continues to support the MOU. The Summit Daily reported in the Vail Resorts threat in the its July 12 edition after covering the town council meeting. The story is online here.
Vail Resorts first proposed the expansion several years ago, presenting it as the “final piece” of resort development. During an initial public comment phase, the Forest Service received several hundred comments, many of them from Breckenridge residents expressing concern about environmental impacts, traffic, parking, housing and other so-called quality of life issues.
The proposal includes several hundred acres of new terrain, including some clear-cut trails and some above-treeline terrain, a new six-seater chairlift, a warming hut at the top of the lift and a mid-mountain restaurant.
The recently released draft environmental study includes two development scenarios, including one that closely mirrors the resort’s original proposal, but the scaled-back alternative seems to be gaining some traction as a compromise. Vail Resorts hasn’t been able to generate much widespread enthusiasm for the plan, but based on public comments and questions at two recent public meetings on the plan, many residents and visitors are willing to accept the compromise plan that is seen as being a bit lighter on the lands.
After the first scoping phase, former Breckenridge chief operating officer Lucy Kay suggested formation of a community wide task force to find solutions to the social issues raised by the comments. The group met for more than two years, ultimately drawing up an agreement that addressed some of the concerns — at least indirectly. Vail Resorts said it wouldn’t pursue any base area development at Peak 6 and also said it wouldn’t expand beyond the Peak 6 area unless asked to do so my the local community.
During some of the final sessions on the Peak 6 MOU, Vail Resorts did try to get Breckenridge to agree in advance to support the resort’s proposal, but the town demurred and reserved the right to review the draft alternatives and make comments as part of the public process. The town and the county OK’d the MOU, but Vail Resorts never signed it, for reasons now becoming obvious, as the company plays what it thinks might be a trump card.
At this point, it’s not even clear toward which of the alternatives the town council are leaning. Alternative 2, closest to the resort’s original proposal, actually appeared to have a fair amount of support among council members, at least with a few modifications, but Vail’s hardball tactics could backfire and trigger a backlash.
Regardless of the outcome, this current showdown over the Peak 6 proposal reinforces the ages-old story: When you make a pact with the devil, he doesn’t just want a bite of your ham sandwich — he wants your entire soul.