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.Some long-time opponents of the expansion feel like the process failed; that the Forest Service paid lip service to the idea of community input, but failed to act on any of the concerns in the final decision. It’s an oft-heard lament in ski towns around the West.

Facebook comment: Eventually there will be too many people for town and the Mtn and people will choose to go other places that don’t have hour-long lift lines. The Mtns getting bigger but main st is the same size …

Some of those concerns were addressed later in an agreement between the ski resort and the local community, as the resort agreed to drop a planned Peak 6 restaurant from the proposal. At one point, former Breckenridge chief Lucy Kay said the resort was prepared to agree that Peak 6 would be the last expansion of the resort, but Kay left the resort and the language referring to future expansions was watered down in the final agreement.

Some critics of the expansion may not be quite ready to simply give up.

“I’m disappointed but not surprised,” said Breckenridge resident Dave Rossi, a former town council member who also served on the task force that hammered out the agreement intended to address some of the social concerns.

“It’s a tough decision to take. I was thinking about it a lot last night … the industry here is resource extraction of a different kind,” said Rossi, who opposes the expansion.

Facebook comment: I feel like GREED is taking over! When does it stop?

“What’s going to slow down the quest for year-over-year growth … It’s sad; this approval is a big example of what happens when people chase that money so far,” he said.

According to Rossi, the Forest Service ignored the many voices from the community who asked the resort to upgrade existing lifts and trails within the resort’s footprint before looking to another expansion.

Facebook comment: Might as well go all the way to Frisco and cal it BreckCo!

“The Forest Service never could really answer for the community – why is this project taking precedent over so many other proposals that were put before the town council when Roger McCarthy was in charge,” Rossi said, referring to the so-called infill alternative that would have tried to address the crowding issues at the ski area without expanding the resort’s footprint.

“It certainly smells like this has more to do with selling a new peak,” said Rossi, who has been adamant for years that the Peak 6 expansion is mostly about marketing. Along with many others, he questioned whether the project will do what the resort and Forest Service claim — which is better disperse skiers across the mountain to relieve bottlenecks.

Marketing a new peak is sexy — an easier sell than upgrading old chairlifts and making other infrastructure improvements.

Facebook comment: Ya and where is the new lift to replace 6 chair the huge bottleneck on a powder day!!! Bummer!

“Why not improve these things and evaluate the need to expand to the north once these things are done?” Rossi asked.

For its part, the Forest Service gave that so-called infill alternative some consideration, but ultimately rejected it. In the decision document, Fitzwilliams said it could actually have greater impacts to some resources than the Peak 6 expansion, a claim that will be scrutinized by anyone considering a challenge to the approval.

“I’m a little bit disappointed that there wasn’t more concern for that beautiful part of the forest and the wildlife there … when the bulldozers go in, I suppose the wildlife will move out,” said Breckenridge Town Councilmember Ben Brewer.

“I’m not someone who’s against all development, but I definitely was against cutting runs on peak 6. I felt like it was one step too far,” Brewer said, specifically mentioning concerns about the effects on wildlife, as well as visual impacts, as the patchwork pattern of clearcut ski trails spreads farther across the face of the Tenmile Range.

Brewer said the Forest Service made every effort to do a thorough analysis, but that the work may be tainted — at least in the public’s perception — by the fact that the environmental consultants who prepared the documentation were paid by the ski resort.

The approval is subject to a 45-day administrative appeal period, but it’s not clear yet if anyone is prepared to make that sort of a challenge. Appeals are generally based on a scrutiny of the administrative record, with any substantive challenge coming if critics can find specific examples of how the decision doesn’t mesh with overriding federal environmental laws and regulations.

Appeals are reviewed by a high-ranking Forest Service official, often a deputy regional ranger or a a specially appointed appeals decision officer with the agency.


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