Corn Lot public benefits likely to change
SUMMIT COUNTY ” A public benefits package tied to a parking lot expansion at Copper Mountain may be falling apart.
The resort wants to add up 1,500 parking spots on 13 acres of national forest land next to the existing Corn Lot. The parcel is included in Copper’s Forest Service permit area.
Facing questions about whether parking is an appropriate use of public lands, the Forest Service and the resort initially linked the parking lot plan with a proposal to extend the county recpath up toward Fremont Pass, and to restore a degraded section of East Tenmile Creek.
During a Board of County Commissioner work session Tuesday, acting District Ranger Scott Ludwig said the Forest Supervisor’s office decided to separate the recpath plans from the parking lot and stream restoration study.
“As we began to look at the east side of Tenmile Creek we found wetlands … we couldn’t find a route for the bike path,” Ludwig said. A pocket of organically rich and old wetlands called fens presented a major stumbling block. Federal environmental rules make it almost impossible for the Forest Service to consider a project with impacts to fens, Ludwig said.
“The fens are a significant issue,” said Copper Mountain senior vice president and general manager Gary Rodgers. “We haven’t identified a new alignment but we’re committed to doing the analysis.” Rodgers said the resort and Forest Service will look at a new alignment on the west side of Tenmile Creek.
An alignment closer to Highway 91 could address some of the natural resource issues, Ludwig said. The Forest Service will start looking at alternate routes this summer. A recpath proposal would then be subject to a separate environmental study, he added.
County Commissioner Thomas Davidson questioned the new direction.
“This is unfortunate news … I feel strongly that putting the path up against Highway 91 is undesirable, even for a short distance,” Davidson said. “This is not the experience we’re looking for.”
Rodgers said a recpath route on the west side of the creek, near the highway, is the concession that might be needed to address the wetlands issues.
Davidson asked whether the Forest Service considered elevating the recpath on a to avoid direct wetlands impacts.
Ludwig said the Forest Service could look at that option, but raised concerns about indirect impacts from increased use of the area.
“A bike path following a road is not an opportunity,” said assistant county manager Thad Noll. “The map is showing the Corn Lot (expansion) on future potential space for the bike path.”
Noll wanted to be sure that the change in plans won’t preclude any future options for a desirable recpath alignment. “It appears you have two things that want to occupy the same space,” Noll said after a quick look at maps presented by the resort and Forest Service and the resort.
As another element of the Corn Lot proposal, the resort and Forest Service want to restore a section of East Tenmile Creek damaged by channelization and mining activity upstream. Fugitive sand from highway operations is also degrading the water, Ludwig said.
The analysis for the stream work is proceeding as part of the Corn Lot study, but may turn out to be a bigger project then anticipated. Ludwig said once the restoration has been defined by the agency’s study, the next step would be to find partnerships to help pay for the extensive work.
The Corn Lot expansion could include some early stream rehabilitation, but the major stream restoration work previously touted as a public benefit could take some time, depending on funds, according to Ludwig.
The timing of the Corn Lot project has been a question mark from the beginning. After a discussion last July, the county commissioners sent a formal comment letter to the Forest Service, calling for the parking project to be evaluated simultaneously with a county review of a base-area development plan at the resort.
The commissioners wanted to know whether existing parking on private lands is being relocated to facilitate more development at the resort, and asked for detailed evidence showing that’s not the case.
The commissioners also called on the Forest Service to disclose the purpose and need for expanding parking on public lands, and to take a close look at how more parking along Highway 91 would affect Highway 91 and I-70, where there is already a traffic crunch at peak times.
Ultimately, the county commissioners don’t have much leverage when it comes to Forest Service approval for the Corn Lot expansion. The agency can weigh local input, but once rangers have accepted a proposal, the decision is made following the formal Forest Service process. But county officials will keep a close eye on the evolving plans. Local planners and trails experts will work with the agency and the resort to try and make the project work as originally planned, Noll said.
Learn more about the Corn Lot plan at http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/projects/copper/index.shtml.
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