Opposition pleased with USFS decision

edlora usfs decision Barbara Lawlor, Eldora Mountain Resort.  It isn’t perfect and it isn’t forever, but the United States Forest Service Record of Decision on the Eldora Mountain Resort expansion has offered some locals and conservation groups a respite from their concerns. For the past couple of years, the Sierra Club and the Middle Boulder Creek Coalition have been fighting the resort’s proposal to expand beyond the current boundaries to the Hesse wetlands area.

On Oct. 1 the USFS announced that it will allow EMR to move forward with its proposed improvements within its existing special use permit boundary. This will include replacing lifts, adding more gladed terrain and new runs and improving the snowmaking building and renovating restaurant facilities.

According to the announcement, this decision refers all expansion and improvements outside the existing ski area’s special use permits boundary, “providing the opportunity for the ski area to work collaboratively with interest parties on the more controversial elements of the project.”

Eldora residents have boisterously opposed the expansion down to the Hesse wetlands area saying it is unnecessary and would impact the wildlife, increase traffic on the road, harm the wetlands and become a doorway to future expansion into the wilderness area.

Last spring, a concert fundraiser was sold out when local bands offered their talent to raise money to pay an attorney to file a notice of opposition to the EMR proposal.

The USFS Record of Decision comes after close to three years of planning, environmental analysis and public input on the proposal from EMR, which inhabits 524 acres of Roosevelt National Forest land and 680 acres of private and leased land in Boulder and Gilpin Counties. The decision applies only to those on USFS land.

Last March the forest service proposed to approve parts of two alternatives. The environmental analysis process allows people who have submitted comments to object to the draft decision once it is released.

The filed objections included 30 entities and individuals opposed to 100 different issues. Among those opposed to the expansion were the Town of Nederland, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Boulder County, Sierra Club and the Middle Boulder Creek Coalition.

These groups expressed concerns about the proposed Placer Lift expansion north toward Middle Boulder Creek and the Jolly Jug life expansion south toward Jenny Creek. Impacts on water quality, wildlife, aquatic habitat, Nordic trails and Eldora residents were listed.

Although the objection reviewing officer found no violation of law, regulation or policy, Ron Archuleta, acting Forest Service supervisor said there needed to be more collaborative work done before expansion approval. He said “While the Envionmental Impact Statement adequately disclosed the effects of these proposed projects, there were still environmental and sockal effects that could be better resolved.”

This means that the expansion projects could be approved in the future, but that would only happen with a refined proposal developed collaboratively by EMR and those individuals and groups that have been involved in the process.

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Nederland resident Bill Ikler speaking for the Indian Peaks Group of the Sierra Club says, “We are pleasantly surprised at the Forest Service’s decision, given that they have very accommodating to Eldora Mountain Resort’s expansion plans up until now. I think the breadth of objections to EMR’s proposal to expand beyond their current boundaries may have influenced the Forest Service’s decision to permit improvements only within boundaries for now.

“This decision allows EMR to replace lifts, add terrain and build new lodges and amenities within the current borders, which is what the Sierra Club has been advocating throughout this process. We think those improvements will enhance the ski area’s goals of providing a better skier experience and remaining competitive, without impacting the wildlife habitat and backcountry experience that an expansion would bring.”

But Ikler warns that the decision has only been deferred and the Sierra Club hopes that the question of expansion can be resolved by all stakeholders without resorting to litigation.

The Middle Boulder Creek Coalition was also pleased with the decision. David Hallock says, “Since throughout this process, the potential decision was getting worse with each step, we did not expect this outcome. But it was one of the options we had presented to the forest service: to go forward with the improvements within the ski area’s existing boundary and develop a collaborative process for looking at the more controversial aspects of the expansion, a process that should include not only the forest service and ski area but also, at a minimum, the local governments.

“We greatly appreciate the decision of acting Forest Supervisor Ron Archuleta and Boulder District Ranger Sylvia Clark for taking a fresh look and realizing there could be a better solution that meets most of the ski area’s needs to provide a superior winter sport experience for their clientele while recognizing the desires of local and county land use plans that strive to protect the ecological integrity of the surround watersheds along with maintaining the scenic quality and visitor experience on public lands for those people accessing the Indian Peaks Wilderness area and Jenny Creek.”

Hallock says there are still hard decisions ahead; the expansion could still occur with little or no additional NEPA analysis or public comment, but the coalition anticipates working towards a solution that allows the ski area to thrive in the future and that strives to be a green resort and a business model that reflects community values.

EMR marketing director JP Chevalier had no comment on the forest service decision. The resort plans to open on Friday, Nov. 20.

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.