Breck’s proposed Peak 8 chairlift challenged again
SUMMIT COUNTY – Ski industry watchdogs will once again challenge U.S. Forest Service approval of the proposed Peak 8 Summit Lift at Breckenridge Ski Resort, and will raise additional appeal issues based on the most recent procedural twist in the contested project.Colorado Wild’s Jeff Berman said his group planned to resubmit its original appeal Friday, which marked the deadline for this step in the process. A regional appeal review team will scrutinize the challenges and make a ruling later this summer, with a deadline of August 1.Berman said parts of the environmental study for the proposal were significantly revised and that the changes should have been subject to renewed public comment prior to a decision.The revised Environmental Assessment (EA) was issued April 29 as a replacement for the January 2005 version. It includes an expanded section on responses to comments, as well as a slight change with regard to the potential effects of the project on threatened Canada lynx. The January decision declared “no impact” to lynx, while the revised April version acknowledges the potential for slight impacts – a “not likely to adversely affect” finding, with “insignificant and discountable” effects under federal regulatory jargon. “There were numerous changes in the decision notice and the response to comments section that should have been put out for comment,” Berman said, explaining that Colorado Wild’s new appeal will address those issues.”The changes are so major it shows they had information back in November that they didn’t disclose,” Berman said. “How is the public supposed to understand the issues and comment intelligently if the Forest Service isn’t telling us what’s going on,” he said.Lynx sightings at Breck?According to the replacement EA, several signals from radio-collared lynx were identified in the vicinity of Breckenridge Ski Resort during the fall of 2004, providing the first verified evidence of lynx using the east side of the Tenmile Range. It’s not clear if there was more than one lynx in the area, or if the multiple signals came from one animal.Much of the project area is in terrain classified as unsuitable for lynx, with little indication of an abundance of prey species, according to the Forest Service. The agency also concluded that there are no denning or other habitat activity occurring in the vicinity of the lift corridor or authorized skiing terrain.The only potential for slight impacts are during construction, when a lynx wandering through the area might be temporarily displaced. Lynx movement across the ski area would not be affected, since it’s likely to occur between dusk and dawn, when there is no human activity in the area.White River National Forest Planner Dan Hormaechea said the revised EA does not contain significant new information.”That’s why we didn’t put it out for comment,” Hormaechea said, describing the changes as a re-ordering of information. The changes were based on input from new WRNF Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson. “It’s more representative of what she thinks,” Hormaechea said.Regarding the lynx information in the revised EA, Hormaechea said that, since the potential effects are the same – insignificant and discountable – there was no need to seek additional input from the public or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which is charged with managing endangered and threatened species.Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton said the updated version of the EA helps better explain to the public the basis for the Forest Service approval of the proposed lift.The Forest Service received the proposal in November 2004 and it was approved by Newton in January. During the appeal process, reviewers found that the decision should have been made by the WRNF supervisor. Newton withdrew his decision March 31. Gustafson then re-approved the project at the end of April.The project also includes the replacement of 6 Chair.Stinging wetlands criticismResort officials have said they are hopeful they can proceed with the project this summer, but will first re-map the 6 Chair project area to identify potential wetlands. A previous wetlands map was based on a site visit during a dry time, in September 2003, but the new mapping will take place during saturated conditions.The renewed wetlands survey was spurred in part by stinging comments from the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, charging that the Forest Service did not adequately address potential wetlands impacts. The Corps also disagreed with the Forest Service finding that the project would “not contribute to cumulative wetland impacts in the project vicinity,” finding there was “insufficient information and analysis to make that statement.”Corps and EPA officials have indicated they may request to participate or observe the wetlands mapping session.
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