US Forest Service announced yesterday that it would not approve Tom Maclay's proposal for a 4-season mega-resort in Lolo, Montana.
From our local paper, The Missoulian:
LINK FOR ATTRIBUTION -- http://www.missoulian.com/articles/2...top/news01.txt
From our local paper, The Missoulian:
|Bitterroot, Lolo national forests reject ski area
By SHERRY DEVLIN and COLIN McDONALD of the Missoulian
Bitterroot Valley rancher Tom Maclay cannot build a downhill ski area on Lolo Peak under existing forest management plans, supervisors of the Lolo and Bitterroot national forests said Wednesday. And at least 900 acres on the mountain - the Carlton Ridge Research Natural Area - is permanently off-limits to development, said Lolo National Forest supervisor Debbie Austin. Maclay has two choices, Austin and Bitterroot forest supervisor Dave Bull said: He can either come back with a proposal that is compatible with the management plans, or he can get involved in the ongoing revision of those plans.
Of course, Austin said, there is no guarantee the revised plans will allow development of Maclay's proposed 13,000-acre downhill and nordic ski resort.
Maclay was not available for comment Wednesday, but a spokesman for his Bitterroot Resort said the development is far from dead. "We disagree with their response, but the important thing is where we go from here," said spokesman David Blair. "We will continue to work with the Forest Service, and keep working with the Missoula and Bitterroot communities for this development."
A lifelong Bitterrooter, Maclay wants to build a four-season destination ski resort reaching up from his 2,900-acre ranch below Carlton Ridge to the south summit of Lolo Peak. His ranch land would accommodate the planned golf course, hotels, condominiums, conference center and shopping plaza. The national forest land above - 8,554 acres on the Lolo forest, 2,383 acres on the Bitterroot - would provide most of the downhill and cross-country ski runs.
Austin and Bull got their first good look at the proposal in early February, when Maclay delivered maps showing roads, ski lifts and runs. They looked first, Austin said, at whether a ski area would be compatible with the land-management direction set out in the Lolo and Bitterroot forest plans. It was not. "On the Lolo National Forest, the area is mostly designated for semi-primitive and non-motorized uses, where developed recreation is not appropriate," Austin said.
The Bitterroot forest's plan carries similar direction for the management of Lolo Peak and its environs. The area is also within two inventoried roadless areas. But forest plans can change, and both forests are in the midst of revising their plans. However, none of the discussion to date has looked at changing Lolo Peak's mostly primitive status.
"Where I am personally," Austin said, "is we've gone through a series of meetings about our forest plan revision and this was not a topic of discussion. "And I would like to have that as a public discussion before we come out and say, 'This is what we want to do.' We haven't had a chance to talk with the public."
Even if Maclay abandoned his Bitterroot Resort proposal, the public needs to talk about the future of Lolo Peak, Austin said. "This has been talked about for years at Lolo Peak by a number of different people, and we need to determine what we feel that land is suitable for over the next 15 years," she said. However, the Carlton Ridge Research Natural Area is off the table, Austin said. "Those 900 acres are off-limits, and that is not going to change," the supervisor said. "Research natural areas are established in perpetuity." The only way a research natural area can be revoked, she added, is "if some catastrophic event renders it unapplicable to the research it was established for." Carlton Ridge is home to a unique larch habitat, according to Austin, and is the site of several ongoing research projects.
Blair, however, said he believes the Bitterroot Resort "can work around or through" the larch forest. "I'm just saying it's not an open-and-shut case," he said. "The larger question is: Do the communities want to pursue this economic and recreation opportunity? And if so, can people work together to solve the environmental and other issues associated with a ski area in a way where everyone feels there is a good outcome?"
Bull, however, said the Bitterroot Resort did not pass the Forest Service's initial screening criteria, so will not move on to the next step in the process - preparation of a full-blown environmental impact statement. Said Austin, "It's a very deliberate, step-by-step process that we go through before we decide whether we would even accept a special use permit application for a development of this sort."
"This is not something we take lightly," she said. "We are very careful. This proposal would involve a very large commitment of national forest." Missoula District Ranger Maggie Pittman said forest managers could not determine whether Maclay's plans for nordic skiing would be appropriate because his proposal focused so heavily on the downhill area. The cross-country skiing apparently would make use of lower-elevation forest roads, nearly 40 miles of which would be groomed.
Pittman said she invited Maclay to present a more detailed description of the nordic uses. Bull explained that before any development could occur on public land, Maclay would need a special use permit. The first steps in that process involve two levels of screening to evaluate whether:
* The proposal is consistent with laws and regulations.
* The project would create a serious risk to public health or safety.
* It is consistent with, or can be made consistent with, forest plan standards and guidelines.
* Is in the public interest.
* The use of national forest system land is necessary.
If the proposal failed to meet any of the screening criteria, it would be returned to the developer - who could choose to modify the proposal and resubmit it for further consideration. "It's a back-and-forth process," Austin said, "and it could go on for quite some time."