Dear Town Council, don’t support Snow King’s development on USFS land!

Dear Town Council, don’t support Snow King’s development on USFS land!

The Snow King development team is trying to persuade our Town Council to support all the development on Forest Service land in exchange for still-nebulous community benefits at the base. We asked them not to write a letter to the Forest Service supporting this development.

UPDATE: Our Town Councillors rejected Snow King’s request and did not write a letter to the Forest Service supporting the development.


Dear Mayor Muldoon & Councilors,

Please reject the Snow King developers’ request for a letter of support for a controversial new road and boundary/operating expansions into currently-undeveloped wildlife habitat on public lands.

We closely followed your discussion last week in which a number of councilors said they were open to hearing more information about the boundary expansion / new road proposal at a new public hearing.

We were extremely dismayed to read the developers’ January 31 letter in the packet, where the developers declare their intent to get your support without allowing any more public input in realtime. If you do allow the developers or their consultants to make yet another pitch for the expansion proposal, please allow equal airtime from credible local experts, such as Rod Newcomb (assuming he’s willing), so you can hear a fair and balanced perspective on these proposals.

We also believe you deserve a better presentation of the data cited in the developers’ letter. They imply community support for their expansion from three data points, but the actual data don’t show support. Here is a fact-check and context for the following points in their letter:

Data point #1: “For reference, attached are the tallied responses from the January 22, 2018 Snow King Community Workshop Public Meeting”

Unfortunately, the way the questions were framed in that public meeting was very confusing and unhelpful for a robust public discussion. And the tally in the attached response sheet left off 11 “other” answers. Furthermore, the facilitator made it clear that the worksheets were not to be treated as a “vote” – as this meeting was clearly not representative of our Town population. But since the developers reference the tally, let’s look at it. While the SKMR proposal had the largest single number, that doesn’t tell the whole story:

  • 129 people supported the SKMR proposal
  • 131 people did not support the full SKMR proposal – this ranged from being OK with the road but no broader boundary expansion, to no expansion at all, to the 11 “other”

Clearly, at a 50/50 split, there was nowhere near wholehearted community support for the proposal.

Additionally, at the November 13 public hearing, we counted 28 commenters registering serious concerns, often with the boundary expansion and road, and only 24 comments supporting the proposals (and 9 of those were from people who identified themselves as employees of SKMR or the Snow King Hotel). The developers did not mention this meeting.

Overall, it is clear that our community is very split on these highly-controversial proposals.

Data point #2: “and the final vision scenarios from the Snow King Stakeholder group completed on May 11, 2018.”

The developers reference the stakeholder scenario list, showing 3 of 4 scenarios include a road / boundary expansion. The obvious conclusion is that the stakeholder group supported the road and boundary expansion. But this conclusion would be incorrect. The developers did not include or reference the facilitator’s narrative report that accompanied the scenarios. The report (see pg. 122 in the May 21, 2018 packet) stated:

However, there were several concerns that consistently emerged that the Stakeholder Group was unable to resolve with regard to these options. These issues are listed below. Some of the issues could be informed and/or resolved through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis that the US Forest Service will conduct as part of a Snow King application process. Others are matters of preference or perspective and are therefore more difficult to resolve.

    • The potential impacts of expanding the ski area boundary and/or building a new road on elk habitat, migration corridors, and other natural resource values on the mountain
    • The engineering challenge of constructing a new road on the front of the mountain on one hand, and addressing safety and operational concerns related to accessing resort infrastructure and the summit on the other hand
    • The change in the experience on the mountain and in the surrounding neighborhoods with the addition of a zipline, particularly related to noise and potential loss of a lowkey atmosphere
    • The potential visual impacts from a new road and/or a zipline
    • The ability or lack of ability to minimize or mitigate these potential impacts
    • What the appropriate package of community benefits should be in exchange for boundary expansion and/or new road development and/or a zipline

… While there is general stakeholder convergence around many scenario elements, there remains divergence among the stakeholders about important aspects of the future of Snow King, including whether to have a zipline and where to put it if there is one, whether to develop a new road and where to put it if there is one, and whether, where, how much to expand the Snow King boundary. The convergence in many cases is based on compromises made in other topic areas, some of which may not be obvious to those who were not a part of the discussion. The group hopes that future negotiations, analyses, and permitting processes among and between Snow King, SRKMA, the Town, and the US Forest Service yield a balance of outcomes that allow for the continued viability of Snow King while providing community benefits and maintaining the feel of the community that makes Jackson such a desirable place to call home.    [our highlights; the report’s bold/italics]

We should also note that any level of stakeholder support was conditioned upon concrete community benefits, such as “Creation of a new community mountain sports center” (pg. 120), benefits which, like the mountain sports center, were promised for months and then vanished into thin air in December. If the stakeholders had seen what would happen to the “benefits” promised them, they might have supported fewer of the negative-impact proposals.

Either way, it is clearly not correct to say or imply that the stakeholder group supported boundary expansion or a new road.

Data point #3: “In addition, the Town Council was provided an update from the USFS staff summarizing that of the over 400 public comments received for proposed projects on USFS land, 59% of the comments were supportive, 33% were opposed, and 8% were neutral.”

The developers’ inclusion of this point is breathtaking in its level of misrepresentation of the Environmental Impact Statement process. USFS and other agency staff have spent years, if not decades, explaining to the public that scoping comments are not a voteAccording to the EPA, “The scoping process provides an opportunity for citizens to provide input on the range of issues to be addressed in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).” It is not a vote. It is not about “supportive” or “opposed” comments.

We have not seen all the comments, but we suspect that most of the “supportive” comments were blanket or generic statements of support (which are not useful for the purpose of scoping, as defined by the EPA above) – not detailed analysis of issues to be addressed.

And as multiple Town Councilors mentioned in the December 20 meeting, after one former Councilman tried using this “data” to support development proposals: who knows how many of these commenters are constituents of our community? Many or most of the “supportive” commenters may live in New York or LA and have dashed off a quick note of generic support in response to an appeal from the developers’ PR firm’s mass email blasts.

On the other hand, we do know that many of the “opposed” comments were useful for scoping, were thorough and thoughtful, and outlined significant issues for analysis. Here are just a few examples:

Wyoming Game & Fish wrote with specific issues with many of the proposals:

The importance of Leeks Canyon as a crucial big game winter range cannot be understated nor should it be rendered ineffective because of expanded winter recreation into or adjacent to this important wildlife habitat. Consequently, we do not support any aspect of the proposed expansion of the Snow King Mountain Resort that will entail the development of a new ski lift, snowmaking equipment, increased novice skiing opportunities, increased vehicular acess on roadways from the Snow King summit to the bottom of Leeks Canyon, and new facility construction on the ridges above Leeks Canyon. Evidence of big game use in Leeks Canyon is historical and comprehensive. During annual winter big game aerial surveys over the last 25 years, a substantial number of elk and mule deer that spend the winter from Snow King/Leeks Canyon to Game Creek can be observed on the ridges and south and west exposures in Leeks Canyon. The continued use of this area is essential to the health of the mule deer, elk, and moose that use this winter range.

Local resident Susan Marsh wrote (click here to see her full comment letter):

  • The cut/fill slopes needed for the new road will be a scenic blight and will invite the spread of weeds. Alternatives exist: reduce the size and extent of summit facilities so something smaller in the way of a road can service them, improve the existing road which will remain in place anyway, and consider use of Leeks Canyon, which is already being used by those servicing communications towers.
  • The forest east of the permit area is a known nesting area for forest raptors. We know of nesting territories for northern goshawks, Cooper’s hawks, and redtail hawks. The area has already been impacted by the existing new lift and ropes course—what will the additional effect be? Have any nesting surveys been done, before or since the new lift and ropes course were constructed?
  • This area offers year-round security and thermal cover for elk, deer, and moose. It is also used by elk to reach snow-free areas to the south. Displacement of animals already stressed during winter may occur…
  • Ski run 4 and the road switchback appear to be in the path of Ferrin’s Slide. I don’t see a benefit to deliberately placing these facilities in a known avalanche path and then requiring new avalanche control where none is needed now.
  • The geologic information we have about the mountain east of the resort indicates the presence of landslide hazards. Cutting into this slope for road building could oversteepen and destabilize it. Snowmaking could increase the amount of water delivered to this currently low-snow slope, thus increasing risk of slides.

The Teton County Board of Commissioners wrote:

  • that the EIS process analyzes a range of alternatives for the community and stakeholders to consider related to the Snow King proposal, including but not limited to:
  • multiple options for on-mountain road development, including: designation(s) that would address uses that will be allowed or limited on the new road and associated avalanche mitigation areas proposed in new/expanded acreage
  • options for development that involve a zero net-increase of current resort boundary acreage; and
  • that the EIS process takes into careful consideration how the current Snow King proposal adheres to community goals and local regulations outlined in the 2012 Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan

And perhaps most relevant, your current and former colleagues at the Town of Jackson wrote:

Of further concern are the proposed access road across the north face of the mountain and the proposed gondola and zip line along the Exhibition run from the summit to base. Construction of the access road raises concerns about potential rock slides, landslides and avalanches, as well as visual impacts to the community. The proposed zip line may further erode community character, create parking challenges, impact Phil Baux Park and create noise impacts for neighbors. Furthermore, the town may not approve a landing site on town land at the base. For these proposed features, the Forest Service should include a range of alternatives, including using the existing access road on the south side of the mountain, a no-action alternative and other possible alignments. Also, the range of alternatives for development should include a net-zero increase of current resort boundary acreage.

So whether or not hundreds of people in New York City and LA wrote “supportive” comments that we haven’t seen yet, it is clear that local community members, wildlife and community advocates, agencies, your colleagues at the County, and your predecessors on the Council identified clear and present reasons why the boundary expansion proposals do not deserve support at this point.

In sum:

  1. The community does not support boundary expansion – public comment is very split
  2. The stakeholder group did not support boundary expansion
  3. Scoping comments did not support boundary expansion.

Given this in-context reading of the data presented by the developers, and given your existing excellent comments to the Forest Service, we respectfully request that you please do not reverse course and write a letter of support for the controversial and high-impact road and boundary expansions, ziplines, backside expansion, or other high-impact proposals at this point. Doing so could needlessly bias the Forest Service review, as we have written previously.

Thank you for your service to the community, and please be in touch if you would like to discuss any of this before your meeting on Monday night.

Sincerely,

Skye

Phone: (307) 733-9417
info@jhalliance.org
685 S. Cache St. PO Box 2728
Jackson, Wyoming 83001