County naysays EMR expansion proposal

Barbara Lawlor, Boulder

attorney and spenstEldora Mountain Resort attorney Rick Johnson told Boulder County Commissioners that he was not pleased with the letter received from them, saying it had a critical and negative tone and that the issues were pre-judged. He said there had been only one positive sentence about the “crowning jewel of recreation in Boulder County,” and that it was unbelievable that the county would send such a letter to the United States Forest Service without talking to Eldora first.

Johnson barely contained his anger as he addressed the commissioners last Thursday, April 17, at a public hearing regarding EMR’s proposal to expand the resort. On April 14, the commissioner’s sent the letter to Paul Alford, Team Leader of the Boulder Ranger District, explaining that the county has had a tight timeline due to the upcoming spring runoffs after the impact of the 2013 flood. That is why the Thursday meeting was scheduled: to take additional comments.

EMR’s proposal includes three alternative plans. One is to do nothing, to leave the resort as it is. Two is to expand the lifts north toward Middle Boulder Creek, creating 15 new trails in 58 acres of land and requiring a bridge over the creek in the Hesse Trailhead area and connecting CR 130 to the six-person chairlift. EMR administrators say the this proposal would add 77,432 visitors in 10 years.

Alternative three included expanding the area to Gilpin County in the south, which would add 10 new trails in 52 acres and increase visitors by 46,838.

Options two and three would require 560 additional parking spaces and add a 850 person restaurant on the top of the Indian Peaks chairlift.

In the letter, BC stated that the environmental study does not adequately justify the need for the expansion or explain why the alternatives chosen for the analysis were the most appropriate ones. The letter states that Alternative 2, which involves Middle Boulder Creek within the Indian Peaks Environmental Conservation Area goes against the Comprehensive Plan which designates the area as ‘Open Corridor’ which is a designation intended to preserve waterways from development impacts and protect scenic corridors along mountain road systems.

The county comprehensive plan includes the Eldora Environmental Preservation Plan which stated, “Eldora Civic Association would work towards limiting the eventual size and operations of the ski area. There should be no expansion of the ski area outside their current permit boundary and no expansion below the existing Corona and Indian Peaks pods.”

The letter also states that Indian Peaks Wilderness is designated a Natural Landmark and the values associated with that designation would be at risk with the development proposed under Alternative 2.

The terms and conditions of the Boulder County Special Use Permit and the USFS permit include:

Protection of all threatened, endangered and sensitive species, wetlands, riparian areas, watershed and stream quality and old-growth forests on Middle Boulder Creek in the winter.

No use of water by EMR from Middle Boulder Creek above Eldora.

Reduce snowmaking and grooming noise impacts on the community of Eldora.

No access for ski activities from Fourth of July Road or Hessie.

No summer use of backside to protect wildlife.

BC’s limit of 5,000 alpine tickets per day should remain and be enforced.

Other suggestions and insights from the county for the DEIS include:

Cumulative impacts of full build-out of the Ski Area’s Master Plan.

Impacts to the Jenny Creek area.

Impacts of increased summer recreation.

Purpose of bridge over Middle Boulder Creek and use of CR 130.

Impacts on Eldora Ski Road.

Changes in parking demand.

Concerns on Traffic Operations Methodology and concerns about high winds.

In summary, “The county believes the DEIS represents an improperly truncated review of alternatives; a lack of meaningful analysis on secondary and cumulative impactts, given the reasonably foreseeable full build-out of the EMR’s Master Plan; substantial and potentially unacceptable impacts to the Middle Boulder Creek drainage and insufficient details on mitigation to compensate for unavoidable imp acts.”

The letter ended with the commissioners writing, “We look forward to working with you to resolve out concerns.”

Johnson asked the commissioners how they could propose infilling without knowing what that would require. “There has been no adequate process; you have made decision without contacting EMR. .. We are concerned about not being treated fairly. This is reminiscent of 1996 when the county put a cap on the number of skiers allowed. We will sue to protect the validity of the process. Tens of thousands of skiers voted us by the fact that generations have visited the area. There is a greater good to be served. You need to support this relatively modest expansion to keep us vibrant.”

One half of the commissioner’s meeting room was filled with Eldora and Fourth of July Road residents and owners of cabins which have been in the family for generations. Many of them, at least 20, spoke, thanking the commissioners for their decision and only a couple of speakers spoke in behalf of the proposal.

Payson Sheets said that the Eldora area is home to historical mining artifacts as well as ancient Native American relics, 20,000 years old, stating that that it is important to protect the area they are in.

Nature’s Own owner Roy Young commended the commissioners saying that Middle Boulder Creek is no place for industrialized skiing.

Tell Erdl, whose family was precipitous in the ski areas beginning said that people now know what they are doing environmentally. “I don’t think the expansion would affect wildlife. The are they in the summer, not the winter.”

A Loveland resident said the local aesthetics of the area would be violated and there were no provisions for, once put in place, going back. “This is an irretrievable commitment.”

Eldora resident Laura Fisher told the commissioners that she has been monitoring wind speeds for years and says there would be no wind protection at the bottom proposed lift, that the wind speeds are pretty much the same on the bottom as they are on the top. “The commissioner’s report is a breath of fresh air.”

Former EMR general manager Jim Spenst said that the resort started five years ago to become sustainable and competitive with the I-70 resorts. “Infilling would not meet our economic needs, or according to comments, the needs of our skiers.”

The Forest Service is expected to report its own rulings of the proposal some time next year.

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.