We love Snow King, and we want Snow King to succeed as our local Town Hill – not an amusement park. We believe a better future is possible, beyond what the current investors are pushing. So when the Forest Service released their Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), we gave it a thorough read. We asked: will the alternatives analyzed in the DEIS help Snow King become a better asset to our community, or will they destroy what we love about the King – and destroy large amounts of important wildlife habitat? Unfortunately, the DEIS is flawed from top to bottom and didn’t include the required “reasonable range of alternatives,” so we are asking the Forest Service to start over.
Here’s the start of our letter and the “executive summary,” and then the whole letter below or downloadable here.
Dear Interim District Ranger Hoelscher, Supervisor O’Connor, and Deputy Supervisor Ibarguen,
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed Snow King Mountain Resort (Snow King) On-mountain Improvements Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The Alliance represents over 2,000 constituents locally and works to protect the wildlife, wild places, and community character of Jackson Hole. We believe that this valley can be a national model of a strong community living in balance with nature, and we advocate for recreating in ways that respect wildlife, and for basing decisions on the best available science and data.
Recognizing that the primary role of comments during a NEPA process is to improve the final decision of an agency through constructive and critical suggestions, we would like preface our comments by sharing our appreciation for the on-the-ground Bridger-Teton National Forest (BT) staff. We are grateful for the hard work that your staff devote to stewarding our American public lands for the common good, our community, and our visitors – especially in these challenging times of global pandemic. Thank you, BT staff, for all you do.
We have thoroughly reviewed the Snow King DEIS, and found that many elements are flawed, warrant additional analysis, and should be redone. In this letter, we explain in depth the following eight areas of concern:
- The purpose and need statement is fatally flawed: it is actually the developer’s project list in disguise and inappropriately brings economic questions into the review process. We request a new purpose and need statement that speaks to the agency’s purposes and needs in fulfilling its public mandate. A simpler and less-controversial ‘purpose and need’ would expedite public review.
- Recently-discovered emails and the public record from Jackson Town Council meetings show apparent agency staff bias in favor of the development projects. Unfortunately, this bias taints all work done to date. We request an unbiased fresh start to the whole project.
- We found a range of problems with the process, such as the DEIS not addressing what was outlined in the scoping notice, past FS decisions, or Snow King’s agreements with the Town of Jackson; the piecemealing of and failure to resolve past Snow King actions in a NEPA process; the disregard for the best available data; a lack of response to comments provided during scoping; the lack of a preferred alternative; and improper integration of NEPA with the National Historic Preservation Act Section 106 process. We believe these issues are clear and reasonable grounds for a revised DEIS.
- The DEIS dismissed many significant issues that should have been carried into in-depth analysis – like water, wildlife, and safety – and failed to use this analysis to generate alternatives that would have had more acceptable levels of impact. A new DEIS should carry all these issues into full analysis to generate and evaluate different alternatives.
- NEPA requires “consideration of a reasonable range of alternatives that can accomplish the purpose and need of the proposed action.” However, all three action alternatives are almost identical on the substantive questions. The DEIS writers’ arguments against in-depth analysis of the vast range of reasonable middle-ground alternatives suggested by public comment, cooperating agencies, and wildlife agencies simply do not hold up. Please reconsider all the publicly-proposed alternatives in a redone DEIS, and please include a reasonable range of these proposals as action alternatives.
- Many elements in the action alternatives directly contradict Forest Service manuals, handbooks, guidance, or relevant laws. We hope a redone DEIS will only include action alternatives that are consistent with FS regulations, policy, and direction.
- The impact analysis is flawed and dismisses significant impacts to wildlife and other resources due to an incomplete presentation of impacts; flawed analysis regarding impacts to wildlife and other resources; the lack of analysis of human use of infrastructure; and an insufficient analysis of cumulative effects. This leads to the incorrect conclusion that the action alternatives are relatively impact-free. Please redo the impacts analysis in a new DEIS.
- We also find problems with the connected National Historic Preservation Act process. Snow King is a historic ski area and a fundamental part of our community’s history. Any proposed changes to Snow King should follow the historic preservation principle to avoid, minimize, and only then, mitigate. The public has not had a chance to comment on the proposed approach to historic preservation. The current action alternatives all come at a cost to historic resources for the benefit of the permittee. Please better engage the public in the historic preservation discussion in the new DEIS / NHPA process.
In conclusion, this document, and the process that created it, are so fundamentally flawed that we believe the only solution is for the FS to start over. It’s clear that our community, Snow King, and the FS will be best served by starting over with an unbiased staff team; writing a new and appropriate purpose and need; considering issues that were unreasonably dropped from analysis; outlining a new, broader, and reasonable range of alternatives; and providing a better and transparent public process throughout.
We note that BT staff archeologist Schubert (2019) wrote in a recent historic resources report, “At the national level, the FS has identified timely development of the project’s EIS as a priority” (p. 6). Especially given this national priority for timeliness, we are disappointed that the DEIS writers failed so significantly in this process. If this process and the DEIS had been done properly, we could all be moving forward with a better future for Snow King—but it’s more important to get it right than to rush it through a flawed process.
We look forward to working with the Forest Service, Snow King Mountain Resort, and the entire community to ensure that we continue to live and recreate in balance with nature and our community values, while ensuring that Snow King can succeed as our Town Hill, not an amusement park.
Read our full letter here (or download it):