Mayor says Snodgrass expansion controversy in Crested Butte "not over"

Earlier this month, the U.S. Forest Service killed Crested Butte Mountain Resort's plan to enter the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process to expand onto Snodgrass Mountain with an additional 276 acres of predominately intermediate terrain that has been pegged for skiing in Forest Service plans since 1978. The denial letter cited a divided community. The pro-expansion forces argued this was not the case and went into protest mode.

Mt. Crested Butte Mayor William Buck has been one of the fiercest critics of the Forest Service's decision. After the jump, he answers some of On the Edge's questions regarding the controversy on the day that Crested Butte opens for the 2009-10 season.

On the Edge: What happened? Why all the controversy?

I can't tell you because I don't know. It's very confusing, even for the opposition. They agree with the decision, but they don't understand it. My feeling is it came down from the regional [Forest Service] office in Lakewood.

The reasoning behind the denial letter is hazy at best. We're dumbfounded, outraged, and confused. We'd love an explanation but I don't think we're going to get one.

On the Edge: You sound like you were very surprised by the decision. What did you expect?

Buck: All indications were that we were moving into the NEPA process. We had cleared the hurdles that were the sticking points with the Forest Service. We have it in writing from them. The expansion has been in the works for 30 years.

On the Edge:
But some locals oppose the expansion, right, like the Friends of Snodgrass Mountain?

Buck: They're the loudest group. It's a very vocal minority. I can tell you comfortably that 85 percent of the businesses and residents in Gunnison County are in favor of the expansion and 15 percent are opposed.

On the Edge: Why does Crested Butte need to expand?

We don't have the ability to compete on a long-term basis with the bigger resorts. It's kind of boom and bust here. Lately we've seen enrollment decline in the K-to-12 schools. We need to expand just to keep up. It's the need for additional intermediate and advanced terrain. The runs on Snodgrass wil be longer and better than what he have now. And access to the backcountry on the north side of Snodgrass, which is incredible powder skiing, will still be available.

On the Edge: So what's next?

Buck: The resort is finding out what they can do to move forward. The appeal goes to the regional manager in Lakewood. I wouldn't be surprised if this went on to D.C. and up the chain. Stay tuned. This isn't over.

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Eric Peterson