MBCC’s Comments on the DEIS:
Eldora EIS Projects – USDA Forest Service
Paul Alford, Team Leader
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301
Via e-mail: info@EldoraEIS.com
April 10, 2014
Dear Mr. Alford,
The following are the comments of Rocky Smith, the Middle Boulder Creek Coalition, and the others listed at the end of this letter on the proposed Ski Area Projects for Eldora Mountain Resort (EMR), as described and analyzed in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the project.
INTRODUCTION. The undersigned do not oppose the upgrade of two existing lifts and the expansion of on-mountain services. However, we believe that the proposed two new lifts and associated terrain are not necessary and would cause operational and environmental problems, as discussed in detail throughout these comments. They must not be approved.
We believe that most or all of the purpose and need could be met with improvements within the existing special use permit (SUP) area. The Forest Service has not seriously considered this alternative nor at least one other reasonable alternative, and must do so before making a decision to approve an action alternative for improvements at EMR.
I. THE PROPOSED NEW LIFTS AND TERRAIN ARE NOT NEEDED. Visitation at EMR is usually under the comfortable carrying capacity (CCC). DEIS at 3-4. The CCC is only exceeded on some peak weekends and holidays. Id. at 3-5. Overall, the density of skiers on EMR’s trails is “desirable from the quality of skiing perspective” and thus “trail crowding is not a common occurrence at EMR”. Id. at 3-7. But under the proposed action, the density would increase to 90 percent (id. at 3-19), meaning the trails would become more crowded.
Constructing the Placer and Jolly Jug lifts would not reduce lift lines at the base because to get to terrain served by these lifts, snowriders would still have to ascend from the base using the proposed new Challenge lift. It will have only a slightly higher uphill capacity than the existing Challenge and Cannonball lifts now have combined. See DEIS at 2-46.
The purported deficiencies of intermediate and expert terrain are minor and could be alleviated by terrain modifications within the existing SUP boundary. The current distribution of intermediate terrain is 32 percent, with the desired level being 35 percent. DEIS at 1-5, 3-7. The current expert level distribution is only one percent short of the desired level. Ibid. Only advanced intermediate falls short by more than a very minor amount (seven versus fifteen percent, ibid.). New advanced intermediate terrain could be created within the existing SUP.
It is at best unclear how the proposed new lifts would help during wind closures. Would the Placer lift be any less sensitive to wind closures than the Indian Peaks and Corona lifts? The DEIS (p. 1-17) dismisses the need for studies on how wind would affect the proposed new facilities. How then do we know that the Placer lift and the upgraded Corona lift would be less affected by wind than the existing lifts?
This is especially troubling because wind data from a private weather station at the far west end of the Town of Eldora, not far from the proposed location of the Placer Lift’s bottom terminal, was provided to the Forest Service and the company contracted to prepare the EIS, SE Group. This data, from late 2012 and early 2013, shows many days each month with peak winds over 50 MPH and a few days over 80 MPH. Why was this data not used? The EIS should present data on when in recent seasons winds have caused lifts to be shut down, and for how long, so the public can see how much of problem wind is at EMR.
The Placer lift would be on a north-facing slope. Strong winds in the winter are said to be primarily from the north to northwest (id. at 3-8), but are more likely west to northwest. In either case, but especially the latter, wind would probably sway the chairs on the proposed Placer lift just as much as the other lifts.
Currently, the Corona, Indian Peaks, and Cannonball-Challenge lifts are subject to closure during periods of high winds. DEIS at 3-6. Even if it were somehow more wind-resistant, the proposed Placer lift would not help during periods of high winds when the Corona and Indian Peaks lifts are shut down, as there would still be no way to get back to the top via the Placer lift. But making the Corona and Challenge lifts more wind-resistant, if that can be accomplished, would do much more to address the problem of wind closures than would constructing the Placer lift.
The DEIS describes increased trail densities on the front side of EMR when any of the four lifts subject to wind problems are closed down. Id. at 3-8 through 3-9. However, visitation is likely to be less during periods of high winds because of the possible lift shut downs and because many skiers do not want to ski during these periods. The DEIS admits that:
wind closures drive some skiers to leave the resort completely. Instead of skiing limited terrain on the front-side, some skiers may choose to sit inside and wait for the weather to improve, or leave for the day. News of wind closures could even cause some skiers to turn around before they have even arrived…
Id. at 3-10. See also id. at 3-27. Therefore, the effect of wind closures would be considerably less than the 60 percent reduction in CCC stated at id. 3-9. Upgrading the Challenge lift, as proposed, would solve much of the problem of increased density on the front side of EMR during wind closures, if the new Challenge lift would indeed be less susceptible to such closures, as stated at DEIS p. 3-16. However, while the “enclosed top terminal” (ibid.) might protect the upper terminal, it would likely not reduce the effect of wind on the chairs below this terminal.
Another alternative to address wind problems would be to upgrade the Indian Peaks lift. This must be considered. See further discussion below in section II.
Stranded skiers: DEIS p. 3-10 states that skiers often get stranded below the Corona Road toward Middle Boulder Creek, and also below the Jolly Jug run toward Jenny Creek, in part because the fall lines encourage skiers to head into these areas. DEIS at 3-10. EMR should install ropes and signs, if that has not been done already, and patrol the area, making clear that skiers going beyond these areas will be leaving EMR and have no easy way to return.
The proposed north side expansion would encourage skiers to ski down to Middle Boulder Creek, which would adversely affect wildlife movement. See further discussion in section V below. The Jolly Jug lift would not “provid[e] access to the area where people most often get stuck”. Id. at 3-20. Thus rescuing stranded skiers is not a reason to construct the proposed two new lifts. If skiers headed to, say, Lost Lake to the west-northwest, would that justify expansion in that direction?
II. THE PROPOSED IN-FILL ALTERNATIVE AND OTHER REASONABLE ALTERNATIVES HAVE NOT BEEN SERIOUSLY CONSIDERED. Most of the undersigned also endorsed the scoping comments of the MBCC, which advocated no increase in the SUP area, and instead meeting the need for more facilities within the existing SUP area. Approving and implementing the “in-fill” alternative would avoid most of the impacts from either of the two action alternatives that were fully analyzed in the DEIS. It would also ensure consistency with the Forest Plan and obviate the need for any Plan amendment.
See Attachment 1 for a description of MBCC’s in-fill alternative, and Attachment 2 (sent separately) for a map of this alternative.
The reason for not considering this alternative is stated as follows:
Because Alternative 3 in this EIS includes a SUP boundary adjustment that differs from the EMR 2011 Master Plan, should that alternative be approved through this process, the 2011 Master Plan would need to be amended to reflect the correct SUP boundary. For this reason, alternatives to the Proposed Action were not created in response to this specific concern and request.
DEIS at 2-40.
This response to our request for consideration of the in-fill alternative makes no sense. No master plan amendment would be required if an in-fill alternative was analyzed and approved. Just because something is described in the master plan does not mean it must be built, or even that it will be built. Indeed, there are several components in the Master Plan that are not proposed in the current project.
Under the Council on Environmental Quality Regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, “agencies shall…rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives”. 40 CFR 1502.14(a). The in-fill alternative is reasonable because it could be implemented; in fact, it could be done much more easily than either of the action alternatives because extensive tree removal and glading, and for the most part, expensive mitigation measures, would not have to be done. See section IV below. A potentially serious safety problem would be avoided. See section VI below.
Another reasonable alternative is to upgrade the Indian Peaks lift to make it less susceptible to high winds. However, this alternative is dismissed because EMR “would not financially commit to a new chairlift in that location”. DEIS at 2-42. How can EMR not be willing to replace the Indian Peaks lift, but have the money to construct two new lifts? Upgrading the Indian Peaks lift is a reasonable alternative and must be fully considered.
EMR does not have the right to dictate which alternatives will be considered. Just because an alternative is not desired by a proponent does not mean it should not be considered, because under the regulations implementing NEPA cited above, all reasonable alternatives must be considered, even ones not necessarily convenient for the applicant. Note further that guidance from the Council on Environmental Quality specifically addresses this situation:
Q 2a. Alternatives Outside the Capability of Applicant or Jurisdiction of Agency. If an EIS is prepared in connection with an application for a permit or other federal approval, must the EIS rigorously analyze and discuss alternatives that are outside the capability of the applicant or can it be limited to reasonable alternatives that can be carried out by the applicant?
A. Section 1502.14 requires the EIS to examine all reasonable alternatives to the proposal. In determining the scope of alternatives to be considered, the emphasis is on what is “reasonable” rather than on whether the proponent or applicant likes or is itself capable of carrying out a particular alternative. Reasonable alternatives include those that are practical or feasible from the technical and economic standpoint and using common sense, rather than simply desirable from the standpoint of the applicant.
Questions and Answers about the NEPA Regulations, 46 Fed Reg 18026, March 23, 1981; emphasis added.
III. THE FOREST PLAN MUST NOT BE AMENDED TO ALLOW THE PROPOSED EXPANSION OF EMR. Under the current Forest Plan, expansion outside of the “boundaries currently specified in the Master Development Plan” is prohibited. Plan at 54. It was the clear understanding of the Eldora Civic Association at the time of Forest Plan development (1997) that there would be no expansion of EMR outside the SUP. Just a few years before the revised Forest Plan was finalized, EMR had expanded by constructing the Indian Peaks pod. The quoted Plan language was thus clearly intended to limit the size of EMR on its north side.
However, the Forest Service believes such expansion is acceptable because the Master Plan was revised in 2011, and this newer version allows the proposed expansion. DEIS at 2-40. Note, however, that the Forest Plan does not say “current master plan”, but rather “currently specified in the Master Development Plan” (emphasis added), clearly referring to the master plan applicable at the time the final revised Forest Plan was issued. That Master Plan did not include the expansion now being proposed.
The master plan was changed without any public involvement, resulting in the 2011 edition that desires expansion beyond the current SUP boundary. The public never had an opportunity for input on this major change. It is thus inappropriate to now propose a project that would require a change in the Forest Plan.
The Forest Plan also states that “There will…be no increase in the established maximum daily capacity”. Plan at 54. However, the new lifts and upgrades of existing ones would considerably increase the uphill capacity of EMR, and the additional runs would also allow more skiers. The comfortable carrying capacity would increase from 4250 (DEIS at 3-4) to 5880 (id. at 3-15). This would not comply with the Forest Plan, and would therefore violate the National Forest Management Act, which requires that:
Resource plans and permits, contracts, and other instruments for the use and occupancy of National Forest System lands shall be consistent with the land management plans.
16 U.S.C. 1604(i); emphasis added.
The amendment for the Jolly Jug portion would change 11 acres of management prescription 1.3 to 8.22. DEIS at B-3. The 1.3 management area emphasizes backcountry recreation. Plan at 337. This acreage should remain in management area 1.3.
We do not oppose amending the plan to designate land already used for the ski area in the 8.22 management prescription. But an amendment allowing the expansion into the Placer and Jolly Jug areas must not be approved.
It is inappropriate to amend a forest plan to accommodate the desires of a private entity, unless the proposed project or activity allowed by the amendment has full public support. That is clearly not the case here.
IV. THE ACTION ALTERNATIVES WOULD NOT PROTECT RIPARIAN AND WATERSHED INTEGRITY, SOIL STABILITY, OR WATER QUALITY. Under the proposed action, tree removal in the water influence zone (WIZ) could occur within 50 feet of streams. DEIS at 3-213, 3-237. Indeed, 12 acres of tree clearing would occur in the WIZ, with 1.3 acres graded. DEIS at 3-308. This is likely to violate Forest Service direction:
In the water influence zone next to perennial and intermittent streams, lakes, and wetlands, allow only those actions that maintain or improve long-term stream health and riparian ecosystem condition.
Watershed Conservation Practices Handbook (WCPH), FSH 2509.25, section 12.1. Cutting trees, and especially grading, cannot be considered actions that will “maintain or improve stream health”.
The DEIS states that minor erosion and deposition of sediment in waterways is occurring on existing roads and ski runs. Id. at 3-301, 3-303. Grading appears to intensify these effects. Ibid. Some of the proposed new ski runs would be graded, as would the new lift terminals. Id. at 3-315. Specifically, 2.7 acres of land would be graded in areas with potential for landslides. DEIS at 3-318
The highest area of concern is in the area above Middle Boulder Creek, where: runs would be cut for the Placer Pod, the Placer lift would be installed, and additional runs would be cut in the Corona Pod. This area has “severe limitations for natural-surface roads and trails. Id. 3-300. It also has severe limitations for revegetation of disturbed areas. Ibid.
To reduce impacts, “frequent maintenance and costly erosion control measures would be required”. Ibid. Revegetation of ski runs will take 3-5 years, and can take 10 years, especially where grading occurred. Id. at 3-301, 3-316. With areas of saturated soils on the north-facing slopes, there is moderate risk of mass movement. Id. at 3-300. There is a prolonged risk of erosion if revegetation of disturbed areas takes three years, let alone 10 years.
With slopes up to 55 percent (id. at 3-318) and application of snowmaking proposed for all 55 acres of new ski trails at the reduced (but still high) rate of 1.25 acre-feet per acre (id. at 3-304), existing problems and risks, including soil erosion, sedimentation of waterways, and possible mass slope movement, would be exacerbated under the proposed action. Snow compacted from skiing will melt later, resulting in a prolonged snowmelt period compared to the current condition. This would increase the time of when soils are saturated, thus prolonging the time when soil impacts and slope instability could occur.
The DEIS describes the impacts of grading as follows:
Grading by use of heavy machinery would create severe and long-term impacts to the soil by removing the protective vegetation cover, displacing the organic-rich surface layer, degrading soil structure, altering the soil profile, and increasing soil compaction resulting in reduced water infiltration and increase in runoff. All of these impacts lead to an increase risk in erosion and sedimentation and reduction in soil productivity.
Id. at 3-315; emphasis added.
Blasting is said to be necessary for construction of the Placer Pod. DEIS at 2-17, 2-58, 2-59. However, there is no discussion of the effects of blasting on soils, slope stability, and water quality.
How could the Corona watershed have a decrease in peak flow (id. at 3-305) when eight percent more water would be used for snowmaking in this watershed (3-304)? The adjacent watershed, Indian Peaks, would experience a 2 percent increase in peak flow with a nine percent increase in water used for snowmaking. Ibid.
Wetlands. There would be direct and permanent impact to 0.07 acres of wetlands for construction of the base terminal of the upgraded Corona lift. Id. at 3-312. This site would be graded. Id. at 3-313. There would be an indirect impact to 1.41 acres of wetlands, including 0.11 acres of the Corona fen. Id. at 3-312. Fen values are likely to be damaged by snow compaction. Id. at 3-312, 3-313.
The DEIS states that mitigation would be required for these wetlands impacts, and this mitigation “would likely include purchasing compensatory wetland acreage from a wetland mitigation bank”. Id. at 3-312. Such mitigation would occur off-site and would not necessarily replace the same function as what would be lost. In any case, it would not replace wetlands lost from EMR.
Since the inception of Eldora Mountain Resort, approximately 30 acres of wetlands have been filled, mostly in the main parking lot. This is the third largest wetland fill known in Boulder County. Hallock et al., 1986. Additional losses are not acceptable.
Also, fen wetlands are irreplaceable, as the DEIS admits (p. 3-295). Under the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region Fen Policy (March 19, 2002; see Attachment 3, sent separately), the agency states that because of the extremely high value of fens,
the goal is no loss of existing habitat value, and that every reasonable effort should be made to avoid impacting these habitats. Mitigation for loss of fens is problematic, as there are no known methods to create new functional fens.
Id. at 1. The WCPH also states: “Avoid any loss of rare wetlands such as fens and springs”. Section 12.4, design criterion e.
The statement at DEIS p. 3-333 that there would be no loss of wetlands is not true.
The impacts to watershed, soils, and wetlands (including fens) would be considerable, and possibly locally severe. Thus the proposed location of the Placer lift and runs is not acceptable. Putting the Placer lift further up the slope south of Middle Boulder Creek (i. e., within the current SUP boundary) does not appear to be a viable option, either, because of the need for even more grading for a bottom lift terminal and additional vegetation clearing and ground disturbance for an access road. DEIS at 2-40. For these and other reasons discussed throughout these comments, the Placer lift and ski runs must not be constructed, and at least some parts of the proposed Corona Pod expansion must not be implemented.
V. INSTALLATION OF THE PROPOSED NEW LIFTS AND ASSOCIATED SKI RUNS WOULD REDUCE OR ELIMINATE GOOD WILDLIFE HABITAT. There is high quality wildlife habitat in the area proposed for expansion. Overall, about 20 percent of the land in EMR is considered to be effective habitat, defined as habitat that is mostly undisturbed. DEIS at 3-188; see full definition in fn 4 below. The larger intertrail islands especially support effective habitat. Id. at 3-218. This includes the large intertrail islands east of the Corona lift, and the existing Bryan Glades, which would be further cut under the proposed action. Id at 3-188.
Notably, 60 percent of the area of the proposed habitat expansion toward Middle Boulder Creek, i. e., from the existing SUP boundary to the proposed new one, is effective habitat. Ibid.
However, implementing the proposed action would destroy much of the existing effective habitat:
Alternative 2 (Alternative 2 more so than Alternative 3) would fragment and impair effective habitat in the EMR project area with ski trails and lift corridors.
Id. at 3-218. Some interior species, i. e., those needing a continuous forest canopy, could disappear from the area.
The effect on habitat would likely violate two Forest Plan guidelines:
Avoid disconnecting or severing intact areas of effective habitat with new open roads and trails….
When developing new open roads and trails, do not reduce contiguous areas of effective habitat to less than 250 acres or further reduce effective habitat of 20 to 250 acres in size, except where access is required by law…
Plan at 31.
The DEIS states that the polygon wrapping around the SUP to the west would still have more than 250 acres of effective habitat. Id. at 3-219. However, some of that area is private land, including the portion just outside the SUP. Maintaining effectiveness cannot be assured in this area. Also, if the Moose Glades are developed, as proposed in the Master Plan and under alternative 3 (see DEIS Figure 4), the 250 acre size requirement would not be met.
Habitat effectiveness would be destroyed, disconnected, or severed in winter, when people are present. In the snow-free season, fewer people would be present, except during construction and maintenance, but the habitat would still be fragmented, possibly into areas too small to use for species like marten, golden-crowned kinglet, and olive-sided flycatcher, all of which have been detected at EMR. If human use increases, “most current elk use would be lost during and after intervals of human activity”. Id. at 3-240.
Also, the trend is toward more and more summer recreation at ski areas, as encouraged by the 2011 passage of the Ski Area Recreation Opportunity Enhancement Act. (16 U.S.C. 497(b) note). Construction of the proposed bridge across Middle Boulder Creek would facilitate greatly increased human use at EMR during the snow-free season, if not also the ski season. This would further decrease the effectiveness of any remaining habitat south of Middle Boulder Creek. (See further discussion below.)
The proposed action would also likely violate the following Forest Plan guideline:
Additional open roads and trails should not reduce effective habitat below 50 percent by geographic area, or further reduce effective habitat in geographic areas that are already at or below 50 percent on [national forest] land.
Plan at 31.
At the time the Forest Plan was written (1997), the habitat effectiveness of the Boulder Creeks Geographic Area was 52 percent. Plan at 322. It may now be lower than this due to user-created trails. In any case, much of the habitat in the Placer and Corona Pods would become ineffective with implementation of alternative 2 and subsequent operation of the ski area. That could easily push the habitat effectiveness for the geographic area below 50 percent if it isn’t below this level already, especially if the Moose glades are thinned, as is proposed under alternative 3. (See DEIS at 3-243 and Figure 4.)
Deer and elk at EMR would be adversely affected:
Habitat conversion to conventional ski trails and glades would affect moderately large, non-isolated, habitat blocks contiguous with existing developed ski terrain that are lightly to moderately influenced by human activities during spring through fall, when elk and mule deer are present using the area as transitional range (spring and fall), fawning (documented on the existing ski area), calving (not documented on the existing ski area, but possible), fawn/calf-rearing, and summer range. Habitat effectiveness of these seasonal ranges would also be reduced by habitat fragmentation and low levels of human activities (summer maintenance and dispersed recreation) in a larger area surrounding the habitat conversion.
Id. at 3-216.
Middle Boulder Creek corridor. Currently there is a forested wildlife movement corridor on the south side of Middle Boulder Creek that is 100 percent effective because there is almost no human use in this area. DEIS at 3-220. Implementation of alternative 2 would destroy much of this corridor, as the Placer Collector trail, 70 feet wide, would be built within it, as would the ends of four ski runs and the bottom terminal of the Placer lift. Ibid.
The bridge allowing entrance for construction and maintenance would also be built here. While it would be gated year-round (DEIS at 2-18), and EMR would supposedly limit use to authorized personnel (id, at 3-22), it would not be possible to keep people out. Recreationists on foot would likely be able to get around or over the gate and enter the area. This human use would destroy any habitat effectiveness on the south-side corridor, if there was any habitat left after ski run cutting and lift installation to even possibly be effective.
The south side of the Creek is excellent wildlife habitat that would be fragmented under the proposed action:
Alternative 2 would result in the fragmentation of, and habitat losses in, the Middle Boulder Creek pod (a relatively large, intact block of high quality foraging and potential nesting habitat) [for goshawk].
3-205. Goshawks are likely present near EMR and probably use this area as part of a larger range. 3- 174, 3-175. Boreal owl and American marten have been found just above Middle Boulder Creek in the project area. Hallock, 2012.
Supposedly, the forested corridor becomes narrower and discontinuous in less than a mile downstream from EMR. Ibid. However, Boulder County Open Space has been buying the old mining claims just south of the Town of Eldora to conserve the wildlife corridor that extends onto Spencer Mountain and beyond. With this and all the development and human use nearby, it is very important to maintain the wildlife corridor through the proposed project area.
Old Growth. There is no old growth in the project area (DEIS at 3-137), but some stands now in the late successional stage could develop into old growth if left alone. In fact, the entire SUP is considered an old growth development area. Id. at 3-188. However, cutting per the proposed action would prevent old growth development. Id. at 3- 147, 3-217. Even gladed areas that were late successional forest before thinning may not become old growth because of effects of skiing. Id. at 3-217. Stands contiguous to ski runs might not ever become old growth for the same reason, and the fact that the minimum size for old growth is five acres. Ibid.
This would not comply with Forest Plan Guideline 120 which states:
Maintain or increase habitat effectiveness within identified old growth areas and all old growth sites that are not planned for harvest.
Forest Plan at 32. It would also not comply with Plan Goal 116:
Maintain or develop a network of existing and future old growth that provides adequate habitat which is well disbursed, effective and accessible to associated wildlife species.
Lynx: 46.3 acres of lynx habitat would be converted to non-habitat and 79,8 acres would be degraded from denning and/or winter foraging habitat to “other” habitat. DEIS at 3-200. Activities that compact snow, as any kind of skiing does, are discouraged in lynx habitat
Objective HU O1
Maintain the lynx’s natural competitive advantage over other predators in deep snow, by discouraging the expansion of snow-compacting activities in lynx habitat.
Southern Rockies Lynx Management Direction (SRLMD), ROD at Attachment 1-6.
The degradation and elimination of habitat from the action alternatives might also disrupt connectivity, the importance of which is noted in the DEIS:
Because of the patchy, discontinuous distribution of lynx habitat in the Southern Rockies Ecosystem, maintaining landscape-level habitat connectivity may be paramount to maintaining a viable population.
Id. at 3-159. See also Interagency Lynx Biology Team, 2013, at 53. Note that under SRLMD, connectivity must be maintained:
Objective ALL O1
Maintain or restore lynx habitat connectivity in and between LAUs, and in linkage areas. …
Standard ALL S1
New or expanded permanent developments and vegetation management projects must maintain habitat connectivity in an LAU and/or linkage area. …
Objective HU O2
Manage recreational activities to maintain lynx habitat and connectivity.
SRLMD ROD at Attachment 1-1, 1-6.
The effects of the action alternatives on lynx diurnal security habitat (DSH) are not analyzed. DSH is very important for lynx, as they need to have secure daytime resting places so they can hunt at night. DSH is mentioned once in the DEIS, under possible effects from dispersed recreation (p. 3-303), but it is not analyzed.
DSH is defined as
Places in lynx habitat that provide secure winter bedding sites in highly disturbed landscapes such as ski areas. Security habitat gives lynx the ability to retreat from human disturbance. Site characteristics and stand conditions make human access difficult and discourage human activity. Security habitats are sufficiently large to provide effective visual and acoustic insulation and to let lynx easily move away from any intrusion. Lynx security habitat must be in proximity to winter snowshoe hare habitat.
Southern Rockies Lynx Management Direction, Record of Decision at Attachment 1-11.
With smaller intertrail islands, either of the action alternatives would decrease available DSH and make it harder for lynx to cross or inhabit the ski area.
Because either action alternative is likely to adversely affect lynx (id. at 3-199 for alternative 2, 3-223 for alternative 3), the Forest Service must undertake consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (16 U. S. C. 1536(a)(2)).
Important project design criteria are weak. Some PDCs designed to protect wildlife species are weak, as they are written to be discretionary, For example:
To the extent possible, if olive-sided flycatcher nests are detected within impact areas, direct mortality of eggs and/or nestlings could be avoided by conducting tree removal in potential nesting habitat outside of the June 1 and July 15 nesting (with eggs/young in the nest) period.
DEIS at 2-18; emphasis added. There is similar language for other species in the PDCs. Prohibitions and limitations on operations during the nesting season must be mandatory to avoid areas with nesting or denning animals. Also, the nest avoidance periods should be longer. It is doubtful that the young of the year will have fledged by the end times of the restrictions in the PDCs.
Rocky mountain capshell snail. A population of this rare mollusk resides in Peterson Lake, which is drawn down annually for snowmaking at EMR. DEIS at 3-170. There is no recent data on this population, so it is not known if it is declining, and if so, why. See id. at 3-171, 3-172.
The DEIS concludes that there would be no impact to this species, and it is dropped from further consideration. Id. at 3-203. Without more recent data than is referenced in the DEIS, this conclusion is unwarranted. Drawdowns of the Lake, year after year from snowmaking, could adversely affect the population.
VI. EITHER CONFIGURATION OF JOLLY JUG POSES DANGER FOR USERS OF THE JENNY CREEK SKI TRAIL. Under either proposed action alternative, skiers using the Jenny Creek Trail would have to cross downhill runs. Under alternative 2, skiers would cross four runs plus a small section of the Jolly Jug Glades. The same would be true under alternative 3, except a slightly larger portion of the Glades would be crossed. See DEIS Figures 2 and 4 and id. at 3-79. Under alternative 3, the Porcupine Loop trail in EMR’s Nordic system would cross two Jolly Jug pod runs multiple times. See id. at Figure 4 and 3-28. The Deadman Gulch Trail would also be affected. Ibid.
This would create a dangerous situation. The Jenny Creek Trail gets a high amount of winter use. Backcountry skiers and snowshoers would travel directly perpendicular to downhill skiers. The likelihood of collisions would be very high, at least on days, such as weekends and holidays, when EMR has high visitation levels and the Trail also gets a high level of use. The main mitigation measure (actually a project design criteria (PDC), DEIS at 2-17, 3-21), does not make much sense and would not help. How would creation of an “uphill lane”, whatever that it, help ensure safety? Backcountry users would still have to cross four ski runs plus part of the glade. Signage would do little to slow down alpine skiers or prevent collisions.
We do agree with the proposed PDC (DEIS at 2-17) under which the Forest Service would seek to obtain an easement or right-of way for the Jenny Creek Trail through private property. However, obtaining this right-of-way is a desired condition of the Arapaho-Roosevelt Forest Plan, which was approved in 1997. This was 17 years ago, yet this easement or right-of-way is still not in place. That makes it a little hard to believe the Forest Service would ever get serious about obtaining it. But even if it did, it would not relieve the safety problem of slower backcountry skiers and snowshoers intersecting much faster moving alpine skiers and snowboarders.
Though the area where the Jolly Jug Pod would intersect the Jenny Creek Trail is on private land, construction of this pod could not occur without Forest Service approval. The agency must not approve an expansion of EMR that will cause a safety problem for a well-established use, as Jolly Jug would.
The Jolly jug runs would face south to southeast, making the reliability of this pod very questionable during sunny, warm periods, and in years where snowfall is below normal.
Expansion into Jolly Jug must not be allowed.
VII. THE NEW FACILITIES ON THE NORTH SIDE OF EMR WOULD DEGRADE THE RECREATIONAL EXPERIENCE FOR ALL VISITORS, AND FOR THE QUALITY OF LIFE FOR LOCAL RESIDENTS. People using the roads beyond the Town of Eldora, i. e, to Hessie and the 4th of July Road, would see and hear the new facilities. There would be a visual impact, as well as an audible one, as there would be noise from chairlifts, snowmaking guns, and ski run grooming. DEIS at 3-22. For winter users, the change in noise would be substantial at a summer parking area near Hessie (accessed in the winter on skis or snowshoes), and moderate at Hessie. Id. at 3-126. See more detailed discussions in sections XI and XII.
Numerous truck trips would come across the new bridge and through Town, removing the material cut to install the Placer lift and associated runs. DEIS at 3-48, 3-127. Even if there would be no noise violations (of the Boulder County ordinance) as claimed, the presence of these trucks coming through Town would be disruptive to residents and recreationists. Even worse would be blasting with dynamite, under which noise levels could reach 129 to 134 dBA (id. at 3-127), an extremely high noise level. It is not clear from the description in the DEIS what distance this is measured from, but it likely would be felt as well as heard in Town and in the recreation areas just to the west. As states in section IV above, the effects of blasting have not been disclosed in the DEIS. Generally, see additional comments on noise in section XI below.
Many of the proposed new facilities in the Placer Pod and elsewhere on the north side of EMR would be visible from the 4th of July Road, Hessie, and the Town of Eldora (DEIS at 3-76 through 3-78), degrading the recreational experience there. The visual change in the Town from the proposed bridge across Middle Boulder Creek and the access road to it would be substantial (id. at 3-79), degrading resident’s scenic quality and that of people travelling through to recreate further west.
Construction of the bridge would remove eight parking spaces used by dispersed summer recreationists heading for Hessie and points west and northwest. DEIS at 3-54. It would likely take up parking spaces for winter users also. The loss of parking places is dismissed as a small loss and by the belief that it “would not prevent users from parking nearby”. Ibid. The latter is simply not true! On weekends, all the legal parking spaces are filled by about 10:30 AM. There is already way too little parking available to meet the demand, at least on weekends and holidays. Thus the loss of eight spaces would increase the parking situation and diminish or eliminate access for some recreationists because they would not be able to find parking spaces within a reasonable distance of the summer or winter trailheads.
VIII. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO RETAIN TREES AT EMR. Trees are obviously important at ski areas, as they demarcate runs, help properly distribute snow, and provide visual contrast for visitors. There are numerous threats to trees at EMR: mountain pine beetle (MPB), other insects, windthrow, and diseases (like white pine blister rust). Thus it is wise to retain as many trees as possible, including potential future old growth stands. See more detailed discussion in section V above.
Cutting trees increases the risk of windthrow. Id. at 3-140. This is especially true with EMR being in a very windy area, plus the fact that the soils often have low water holding capacity. Id. at 3-135. Trees in a stand develop windfirmness together as the stand grows. Removing more than a minor proportion of trees can cause the entire stand to unravel. Any blowdown in spruce would be problematic, as it would provide host trees for spruce bark beetle (SBB). The downed trees, if not found and treated before beetle flight, would allow breeding of SBB in numbers easily large enough to attack many live, standing spruce trees.
Tree removal under the proposed action would not be light. About 58 acres would be cleared for new trails. Id. at 3-3. This exposes the trees on at least the windward side of each new trail to blowdown. Also, about 57 acres of new glades/tree skiing would be cut (id. at 3-3, 3-143), removing 30 to 50 percent of the trees in each new area. Id. at 3-140. Another 43 acres of existing glades would be further cut. Id. at 3-3. Any stand opened this much would become susceptible to windthrow.
Notably, 30 acres with good regeneration would be cleared, and all but four acres to be treated under alternative 2 have adequate regeneration. DEIS at 3-143. Regeneration would be destroyed or inhibited in glades, as skiing over regeneration would damage or kill the seedlings. See id. at 3-141, 3-142.
The areas with good regeneration should not be cut. Stands with both considerable overstory and regeneration are good lynx habitat.
The species regenerating are not specified in the DEIS’ description of forest health, but should be. Since these trees are in existing stands, presumably with at least moderate canopy cover, it is a good bet that much of the regeneration contains, or is even dominated by, shade tolerant conifers such as Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir, since lodgepole pine and limber pine are shade intolerant. Regeneration for shade tolerant trees like spruce and fir is not easy to accomplish artificially, and thus any existing regeneration of these species must not be destroyed. These trees also do not host MPB, so reasonable efforts to save existing spruce and fir regeneration and encourage new regeneration of these species should be made. The Forest Service should not dump good regeneration down the drain, as would occur under the action alternatives.
Trees need to be conserved at EMR. Live, healthy trees that are not hazard trees should not be cut. Existing, healthy regeneration of any species should not be destroyed. Any cutting that does occur for any reason must be designed to minimize windthrow. The entire EMR, but especially any areas where trees have been cut, must be monitored for blowdown. Any spruce blowdown must be treated immediately to avoid a build-up of SBB.
Finally, 2.8 acres of land containing large, and presumably old, limber pine trees would be adversely affected by the proposed action. DEIS at 3-275. Even with mitigation, some of these trees would be lost (see below), contributing to the decline of limber pine that is already occurring due to MPB and white pine blister rust (WPBR). Ibid.
Given the threat to five-needle pines posed by WPBR, it would be especially inappropriate to cut limber pine trees that show resistance to this pathogen. However, the applicable PDC only advises that trees or stands noteworthy for biological or recreational/aesthetic values will be considered for retention on the landscape or for receiving reduced treatment impacts, when practicable. Examples include very old trees or stands, “bonsai” trees, and genetic reserves of limber pine not yet succumbing to MPB or WPBR.
DEIS at 3-19; emphasis added. Full retention of these trees and stands must be required.
IX. THE AIR QUALITY ANALYSIS IS INCOMPLETE. Chapter 3 of the DEIS contains an analysis of possible air impacts, both from construction and from expected increased vehicle use to access EMR after implementation of either action alternative. Tables 3B-8 and 3B-9 disclose some of the expected emissions as well as the current levels of them, but PM 2.5 and ozone are not listed in these tables. This is the case even though the 8-hour standard for ozone is already “routinely exceeded”. Id. at 3-44. Disturbingly, the Forest Service does not believe that the application of modelling needed “to truly quantify the predicted impacts to air quality
(e.g., visibility, 8-hour ozone)” is warranted. Id. at 3-55.
Even if there appears to be a declining trend in ozone emissions overall (id. at 3-44), the levels of at least this pollutant expected under the action alternatives must be disclosed. Failure to do so is a violation of both the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Act.
X. PROTECT RARE PLANTS. Plant species of concern highlight the adverse ecological impacts that will occur above Middle Boulder Creek due to the Proposed Action (Alternative 2). Of the nine Plant Species of Local Concern that were documented within the project area, five (Lady Fern, Fairy Slipper Orchid, Oak Fern, Heartleaf Twayblade, and Club Moss) were found in the vicinity of the Placer lift, runs, and glades, and all would likely be adversely impacted due to the opening of the forest and greater exposure to sunlight. All of these species favor shaded, moist forests.
Some of the specific impacts stated in the DEIS include:
- Indirect impacts to Lady Fern (Athyrium felix-femina var. californicum) may occur as the result of constructing P-6 trail 20 feet to the east of the only occurrence of this plant. The increased light regime could negatively affect this shade-loving plant (DEIS at 3-273).
- Eleven occurrences of Fairy Slipper Orchid (Calypso bulbosa) were found on National Forest lands in the proposed ski terrain above Middle Boulder Creek. The proposed Placer Glades could potentially impact five of these locations, either directly through skidding logs or equipment over them, or indirectly by causing an increased light regime. The other six locations occur within 30 feet of the outside edge of P-6 trail. Again, these plants could be either directly or indirectly impacted by trail construction (DEIS at 3-273).
- Oak fern (Gymnocarpium dryopteris) occurs along a small stream 1 to 2 feet wide on the terrace above Middle Boulder Creek. The proposed Collector trail would bisect this population, resulting in forest overstory removal and indirect impacts to 0.06 acre of this 0.10-acre population (DEIS at 2-74).
- Heartleaf Twayblade (Listera cordata) was found within the project area; it favors cool, moist ravines. Impacts to 0.29 acre of occupied habitat of this species would occur due to various proposed trails in the Placer chairlift area (DEIS at 3-274).
- Seven populations of Club Moss (Lycopodium annotinum) were found within the project area, all on the backside of the ski area. One population is located 60 feet from the outside edge of a proposed trail associated with the Placer chairlift. Indirect impacts may occur as a result of the Proposed Action (DEIS at 3-274).
Skiing and other resort operations compact snow. This delays spring snowmelt, and may shorten the growing season for plants. DEIS at 3-271. It will cause deeper frost penetration, possibly damaging plant roots and microorganisms necessary for soil processes. Ibid. It may decrease flowering times (ibid.), which could decrease their ability to reproduce and expand to viable populations.
In sum, the installation of at least the Placer Lift and associated runs would harm plants of local concern. The project must be adjusted to eliminate or greatly minimize these impacts. Again, not constructing the Placer Lift and runs would be the surest way to accomplish this.
XI. INCREASED NOISE WOULD DEGRADE THE QUALITY OF LIFE FOR RESIDENTS AND THE EXPERIENCE OF RECREATIONISTS.
We believe that the analysis of noise impacts is deficient. At a meeting in the fall of 2012 between representatives of the Forest Service, SE Group, and MBCC, to a person, we feel there was a promise made by the Forest Service and SE Group to conduct a complete soundscape analysis with noise measurements being taken at several locations starting in the center of Eldora and going up to Hessie. The analysis conducted in the DEIS is qualitative, and there is much conjecture. This is a major disappointment, as we elaborate on below.
- The DEIS provides information about the sound generation of each snowmaking gun and states when there are two guns, the sound level is not additive. Id. at 3-121. But what is the sound level from 20 or more guns lined up on each side of a ski run? That is the scenario likely to occur in making snow on a ski run.
- The qualitative analysis throughout this section of the DEIS describes the ridgeline between the community of Eldora and the ski runs on the back side and concludes that this ridgeline dampens the noise originating from the ski area (snowmaking, grooming vehicles, etc.). DEIS at pages 3-121 et seq.. We feel this assumption is in error. The valley of Middle Boulder Creek is a glaciated U-shaped valley, having walls on both sides. Sounds reverberate in the valley, bouncing off of the opposite valley wall as well as the wall from where it emanates. The valley wall opposite the backside ski runs has several large rock outcrops, which assist in the sound reverberation. Those of us who have lived in valleys understand the phenomena that you often hear a sound better on the opposite side of the valley than on the same side. We feel it is likely that there is no dampening of the noise originating on the backside of the ski area by the ridgeline.
- In the DEIS’ rebuttal of the sound measurements taken during the winter of 1994/95 (id. at 3-122), the implication is that the measured sound levels, which were equal to a person talking at 3 feet away or an electric shaver at 1.5 feet. The point was missed. These readings were of snowmaking sounds emanating from where the ski runs are currently located – generally well over 1,000 feet away. What will the sound be like when 20 or more ski guns are located from 160 feet (the approximate distance of the bottom of Placer lift (Paul Alford, email communication of March 14, 2014) to 1,000 feet in a valley with walls on both sides? Wouldn’t someone talking to you all day or your shaver running all day be annoying?
- We strongly believe that the acoustic experience of winter recreationalists using the trail (CR 130) west of the community of Eldora will be degraded by the presence of the ski lift and runs coming down to Middle Boulder Creek. The ambient soundscape includes all the sound emanating from the ski area, including snowmaking, lifts, the occasional snowmobile, and the sounds of skiers coming downhill. Many of us enjoy snowshoeing and cross-country-skiing, and this is not the experience we desire when heading out on the trail. These sounds could occur during a significant portion of a daily outing.
Many recreationalists don’t go very far, but let’s say that Lost Lake is an average destination. It is 2.6 miles from the west end of Eldora. From the west end of the community of Eldora (where you can begin hearing snowmaking) to the Hessie fork is .75 mile, thus 29% of a round trip to and from Lost Lake would be directly below the Placer lift and runs, and be directly within the soundscape of the ski area. From the west end of the community of Eldora to the west end of Hessie is 1.05 miles, so 40% of the round trip to and from Lost Lake would be within the ski area’s soundscape. And under the right conditions, the sound would likely be heard on the switchback on the trail heading to Lost Lake but before the cascades, which is 1.75 miles from the west end of Eldora. In this case, 67% of the trip would be within the ski area’s soundscape. And if the next phase of ski area expansion on the backside is built, as proposed in the 2011 Master Development Plan (Moose Glade Express chairlift and terrain), the acoustic presence of the ski area would increase.
XII. MAINTAIN SCENERY. We believe that the analysis of scenery resources is inadequate, and we disagree with a number of the conclusions.
The context of the site, being a major portal for access to the Indian Peaks Wilderness and the Fourth of July Valley, is disregarded in terms of sensitivity of the viewscape. Your primary frame of reference is towards the perspective of the ski area, hence the goal is to achieve a low level (moderately altered) of scenic integrity. Somewhere, the fact that this is an entrance to the Indian Peaks, not just in summer, but also in winter where recreationalists are snowhoeing, walking and skiing, needs to influence the sensitivity of the viewscape. It is probable that the Toll Property should have been given a 4.3 – Dispersed Recreation prescription. And one of the goals of the current effort to manage parking at Hessie is to prohibit parking at Hessie proper, with only trail access.
The analysis in the DEIS lumps the visual impacts of the new lifts and trails together with those of the existing improvements, particularly on the backside. For instance, when discussing the visual impacts from Critical Viewpoint #2, the DEIS states
Existing ski trails and minimal glading are currently visible from this location, so an incremental visual change would be experienced from this critical viewpoint.
Id. at 3-77. This same conclusion is voiced for Critical Viewpoint #3 (id. at 3-78). However, the new improvements will place more of the visual impacts in the foreground and much closer to the viewing public. They are less visually subordinate to the landscape character and less compatible or complimentary to the character of the landscape being viewed when placed in the foreground. In addition, the analysis is more geared towards the summer landscape (see the description of colors and contrast, DEIS at 3-70). During winter there is greater contrast between the white of the ski runs and green of the surrounding forest (after the wind has blown off new snow). For example, see Photo Point 4 in the MBCC Scoping Comments, dated August 31, 2012.
We believe a lot was missed in the selection of the Critical Viewpoints. There are locations between Critical Viewpoints 1 and 3 where there are superior views through the trees along CR 130 of the hillside above Middle Boulder Creek compared to what was chosen. The “Ground View” of Critical Viewpoint 4 should have been angled up so the runs could be seen. The Hessie Townsite should have been chosen as a Critical Viewpoint. The hillside where the ski runs come down toward Middle Boulder Creek is an important part of the foreground to middleground backdrop when hiking east through the townsite (see Photo Point 7A in the MBCC Scoping Comments). Another viewshed where the Proposed action would be visible is coming down from Lost Lake (see Photo Point 8A in the MBCC Scoping Comments).
There appears to be an assumption that relative to whatever scenic impacts exist from the Proposed Action along CR 130, the duration of the view experienced by recreationalists is expected to be relatively short (DEIS at page 3-79). We don’t believe this is an accurate representation of how recreationalists use CR 130 during winter. Recreationalists park at the end of the paved road at the west end of Eldora during the winter. The primary forms of travel are snowshoeing, walking (in the snow – it has become very popular, much to the chagrin of cross-country skiers) and cross-country skiing. On a weekend or holiday there can be over 75 cars parked at the west end of Eldora. Many recreationalists don’t go very far, but let’s say that Lost Lake is an average destination. It is 2.6 miles from the west end of Eldora. From the first major bend in the road (where you can start seeing the ski lifts and runs) to the Hessie fork is a half mile; 20% of a round trip to and from Lost Lake would be directly below the Placer lift and runs. From the first major bend to the west end of Hessie is 0.8 miles; 31% of the round trip to and from Lost Lake would have the sites of the new ski runs as part of the foreground. And if the next phase of ski area expansion on the backside is built (Moose Glade Express chairlift and terrain), as proposed in the 2011 Master Development Plan, the visual presence of EMR facilities in the foreground would increase.
XIII. THE ANALYSIS OF CULTURAL RESOURCES IS INSUFFICIENT. Most of the following (all the text in quotations) is taken directly from a comment letter on the proposed project dated March 31, 2014 from Payson Sheets, PhD, an archaeologist employed by the University of Colorado, Boulder.
“On DEIS p. 2-18 is the statement that survey was done, and artifacts will be dealt with only if they are found while digging. I see no competent trained monitoring of all earthmoving by archaeologists being planned, and without them the numerous ancient sites in the area adjacent to Middle Boulder Creek, and to the south of it, would be destroyed.
“On page 2-56 is another statement that survey was done, and stating that transects were 20 meters apart. Clearly that was designed to encounter mid- to large-scale mining operations, and it was successful. Mining in that area took place largely between 1880 and 1910, a 30-year period. The towering problem is that a survey with 20-meter transect spacing is unacceptable if one is responsibly surveying for ancient archaeological sites, most of which are much smaller than that. You find what you look for, and clearly that did not include ancient features or artifacts.
“As I mentioned in my apparently ignored scoping comments dated July 12, 2012, we found ancient artifacts while digging our foundations for our cabin at 150 S 7th St in Eldora, in precisely the same ecotone as the proposed major impacts of the ski area expansion northward toward Middle Boulder Creek. Because Native Americans were moving through the area in question, hunting, gathering, camping, fashioning tools, and various other activities for some 15,000 years, it is time to take that responsibly and not just look for 30 years of mining features.
“Don’t Native Americans count? Don’t they matter? They certainly do to me.”
A more complete survey of cultural resources must be done before any alternative allowing ground disturbance is approved.
XIV. ADDRESS THE POSSIBLE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE. Climate change is likely to affect ski area operations in the future. Winters are likely to be milder, with warmer fall temperatures leading to later opening and/or a greater need for snowmaking. Warm spring temperatures might force earlier closures, or at least lead to poorer snow quality and a poorer experience for visitors beginning in March. Precipitation is likely to become more erratic, with an increase in drought years, and in the severity of drought. Warmer temperatures would accelerate spring and early summer snowmelt, causing a longer period of wet soils and thus extending the time when soil erosion and slope instability could occur on the slopes above Middle Boulder Creek.
Any change to a warmer climate would reduce the operability of the Jolly Jug pod, in either proposed (alternative 2 or 3) configuration. If would be difficult under the current climate to ensure that these south to southeast-facing runs would have sufficient quantity and quality of snow, and marginal to inoperable conditions would only get worse with a warming climate.
However, the DEIS dismisses climate change as an issue to be considered, in part “because there would be no measureable differences between the alternatives in regards to climatic impacts”. Id. at 1-17. However, alternative 3 proposes a much larger expansion into Jolly Jug than does alternative 2. And since alternative 3 would not expand elsewhere, disruption of use of the Jolly Jug pod due to poor snow conditions caused by a warming climate would have a greater effect on the operation of EMR than would occur under alternative 2. However, there could still be problems with operability under alternative 2, as warmer temperatures and more frequent drought could cause a need for additional water for snowmaking, which might not be available.
Even with the dismissal of climate change as an issue for the proposed expansion, the DEIS has a brief summary of the possible effect of climate change on lynx and its habitat. See id. at 3-166. But even that is minimized by saying that either action alternative would probably be implemented before any measurable effects from climate change could be discerned. Ibid. In fact, the changes to habitat by the project could exacerbate climate-change impacts to lynx by destroying habitat that might otherwise remain intact and suitable. In any case, climate change impacts are likely to occur for the foreseeable future, regardless of which alternative is selected. These impacts must be disclosed.
In any case, the effects of climate change by and for both action alternatives should be analyzed and disclosed. Also, the following should be analyzed: the full carbon footprint of each alternative, including, but not limited to, traffic to and from the ski area; energy used for various services, including snowmaking; and carbon sinks lost due to the removal of trees and the destruction of existing and future regeneration.
XV. ADDRESS COMPATIBILITY WITH LOCAL LAND USE PLANS.
The Boulder County Comprehensive Plan expresses some designations for Middle Boulder Creek and the Fourth of July road. The Open Space Map of the Boulder County Open Space Goals, Policies and Maps Element of the Comprehensive Plan designates Middle Boulder Creek as an Open Corridor – Streamside; and Fourth of July Road as Open Corridor – Roadside (Boulder County 1996). Relevant policies for Open Corridors from the Comprehensive Plan are:
- OS 3.01: Where necessary to protect water resources and/or riparian habitat the county shall ensure, to the extent possible, that areas adjacent to water bodies, functional irrigation ditches and natural water course areas shall remain free from development…
- OS 3.03: To the extent possible, the county shall protect scenic corridors along highways and mountain road systems…
- OS 3.04: Areas that are considered as valuable scenic vistas and Natural Landmarks shall be preserved as much as possible in their natural state.
As an expression of the County’s desire to protect the backdrop to the scenic gateway into the Indian Peaks, the County has been acquiring the mining claims on Spencer Mountain. To date, 44 mining claims covering approximately 160 acres have been acquired, some with the assistance of the community of Eldora. The north-facing slope of Spencer Mountain is physically and visually connected to the north-facing slope below the existing runs on the backside of the ski area. Boulder County has also been acquiring mining claims in the vicinity of Lost Lake.
To address growth and development issues, and concerns with recreational growth in the area, the Eldora Civic Association (ECA) Board of Directors directed the creation of the Eldora Environmental Preservation Plan (EEPP) in 1992 (LREP, Inc. 1994). The goal of EEPP is to develop planning tools to be used by Eldora residents that will allow them to have standing and full consideration by the local, state, and federal planning agencies that control land use in the Eldora area. These agencies control land use development, both on private lands within Eldora, and on the adjacent public lands which comprise Eldora’s natural setting.
In 1995 the Boulder County Planning Commission adopted policies in the Mountain Subregion Element of the Boulder County Comprehensive Plan that recognized the Eldora Civic Association as an appropriate referral entity for the area and the use of EEPP for reference. The boundary of EEPP includes the area below the existing Corona and Indian Peaks pods of the ski area. A larger referral area is described as “bounded by the Continental Divide on the west, the Boulder/Gilpin county line to the south, the westerly corporate limits of the Town of Nederland on the east, and the Caribou Townsite/County Road 128 to the north” (Boulder County 1996).
It is noted that when EEPP went through the public process for inclusion into the Boulder County Comprehensive Plan, changes were made to the EEPP boundary based on comments from the ski area; the ski area made no comments pertaining to that portion of the EEPP boundary below the Indian Peaks and Corona lifts where the ski area now desires to expand. The EEPP was updated in 2012 (Eldora Civic Association 2013). Recommendations in EEPP relative to the ski area include (EEPP at page 112 ):
- ECA should work towards limiting the eventual size and operations of the ski area. There should be no expansion of the ski area outside their current permit boundary and no expansion below the existing Corona and Indian Peaks pods. Operations at the resort should be monitored along with the documentation of adverse impacts and non-compliance with the terms and conditions of the Boulder County special use permit and the Forest Service permit. Goals include:
- Protection of all threatened, endangered and sensitive species, species of concern, wetlands, riparian areas, watershed and stream quality, and old-growth forests.
- No use of water by the ski area from Middle Boulder Creek above the community of Eldora and strict enforcement of minimum stream flows on Middle Boulder Creek in the winter.
- Reduce existing noise impacts from snowmaking and grooming on the community of Eldora.
- No access for any activities associated with the ski area from the Fourth of July road or Hessie.
- No summer use of the backside (north slope of Bryan Mountain) in order to protect elk and other wildlife.
- Acquisition of buffers and critical habitat between the resort and the community of Eldora.
- Monitor the quality of effluent from the ski area’s wastewater treatment plant by working with State of Colorado and Boulder County water quality divisions.
- There should be no net loss of wetlands at the ski area, and there should be mitigation for the 32 acres lost since its creation. Any mitigation should occur on or in close proximity to the ski area.
- There should be no night skiing on the backside of the ski area.
- Boulder County’s current limit on the ski area of 5,000 alpine tickets per day should remain and be enforced.
XVI. MISCELLANEOUS ISSUES.
The cumulative impacts analysis needs to include the following existing conditions:
- Open space lands being purchased by Boulder County and the Eldora Civic Association around the community of Eldora, Hessie, Lost Lake and other sites in the Indian Peaks.
- The Hessie Parking Plan and summer Shuttle.
The cumulative impacts need to include the following reasonably foreseeable future conditions:
- Summer recreation at EMR.
- The likely failure of the gated bridge below the Placer lift to keep out hikers and mountain bikers.
Minimize or prohibit chipping of slash. Under a PDC, chips up to three inches deep could cover 40 percent of the ground. DEIS at 2-37. Decomposition of these chips could use up much of the available nitrogen (id. at 3-317) and occur slow enough to delay or prevent revegetation of disturbed areas.
DEIS Figure 12, “Water Resources and Alternative 2 Impacts”, does not include the proposed new lifts or runs. The same is true for Figure 13 and alternative 3.
It is common practice to use helicopters to transport and install ski lift towers. Indeed, it would likely be quite difficult to bring in some of the towers that would be needed for the Placer and Jolly Jug Lifts by ground vehicles, i. e., trucks. However, there is no discussion of helicopter use in the DEIS. Copter use could affect wildlife habitat and also noise for recreationists and residents of the Town of Eldora.
The impacts of constructing the proposed Four O’clock lift must be disclosed. EMR clearly wants to install this lift. See Master Plan at 5-5. One of the two “operational purposes” of this lift is as follows:
It will allow access to existing and planned backside lifts – including Placer… — to supplement the Challenge Express when the existing “summit lifts” or the Challenge Express are on wind hold.
Id. at 5-5.
Given EMR’s desire to address the issue of lifts having to shut down on windy days (see section I above), it is hard to imagine that it would not want to construct this lift, especially if the Placer Lift is approved.
Though the Four O’clock lift would be entirely on private land, it would affect the operation of EMR. An additional ski run would be required to connect the top of the lift to the existing trail system on the backside, and another one would be needed to access the front side runs. See Master Plan Figure 5. Vegetation removal would be required for the lift and runs, with possible effects on soils, water quality, and wildlife habitat.
The Four O’clock lift probably would not get constructed unless the Placer Lift was also constructed, thus it is a “connected action” under NEPA, and must be analyzed. See 40 CFR 1508.25(a)(1). Therefore, the effects of the Four O’clock lift must be analyzed in the EIS.
Additives for snowmaking. It is our understanding that EMR uses a commercial preparation called Snowmax, which contains a snow-inducing bacterium that helps freeze the water used in snowmaking. There are preliminary indications that over time, use of this substance could kill fungi that help trees and other vegetation grow, and possibly kill vegetation on and near ski slopes. See Attachment 4. The EIS must disclose whether this and/or any other additives are or will be used in snowmaking at EMR, and what the possible effects might be.
CONCLUSION. Both action alternatives are inappropriate, and neither can be approved, as neither one would comply with the Forest Plan and thus either would violate the National Forest Management Act. The needs of EMR could likely be met with an in-fill alternative, i. e., modifications within the existing permit boundary. The in-fill alternative must be fully considered, as must other reasonable alternatives, including upgrading the Indian Peaks Lift to be more resistant to high winds. If construction of the Placer and/or Four O’clock lifts are pursued, data must be presented that shows how the Placer lift would be able to operate during periods of high winds, when other lifts might be shut down.
Expanding as proposed near Middle Boulder Creek would cause many problems: fragmentation and destruction of wildlife habitat, disruption of a wildlife corridor, soil erosion, destabilization of the slope, and water quality. It would decrease the quality of life for local residents and the quality of the recreational experience for visitors. It must not be allowed.
Expanding into Jolly Jug would cause an unmitigable safety problem due to conflicts between alpine skiers and backcountry recreationists. The runs would be on a southeast-facing slope, making reliable skiing questionable. It must not be approved.
Rocky Smith, Forest Management Analyst
Dave Hallock, Coordinator, Middle Boulder Creek Coalition
Dr. Payson Sheets, Middle Boulder Creek Coalition
Francine Mandel Sheets, Middle Boulder Creek Coalition
Audrey Godell, Middle Boulder Creek Coalition
Raymond Bridge, Conservation Chair, Boulder County Audubon Society
Roz McClellan, Rocky Mountain Recreation Initiative
Delia G. Malone, Wildlife Committee Chair, Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Chapter
Eric E. Huber, Senior Managing Attorney, Sierra Club
Christine Canaly, Director, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council
Matthew Sandler, Staff Attorney, Rocky Mountain Wild
John Matis, President, North Fork Council
Randall D. Leever
Bill Ikler, Wilderness Chair, Indian Peaks Group of the Sierra Club
Michael A. McCoy, DVM
Patricia W. McCoy
Laura S. Fisher
Joe D McDonald, President, Eldora Civic Association
Boulder County. 1996. Boulder County Comprehensive Plan. [Online] Available: http://www.bouldercounty.org/government/pages/bccp.aspx.
Eldora Civic Association. 2013. Eldora Environmental Preservation Plan 2012. Approved by ECA Board of Directors May 2013 and September 2013.
Hallock, D., N. Lederer, and M. Figgs. 1986. Ecology, Status and Avifauna of Willow Carrs in Boulder County. Boulder County Nature Association Publication No. 4. 38 pp.
Hallock, Dave. 2012. Letter to Sylvia Clark from the Middle Boulder Creek Coalition regarding Eldora Mountain Resort Ski Area EIS Projects. August 31, 2012.
Interagency Lynx Biology Team, 2013. Canada Lynx Conservation Assessment and Strategy. 3rd edition. USDA Forest Service, USDI Fish and Wildlife Service, USDI Bureau of Land Management, and USDI National Park Service. Forest Service Publication R1-13-19, Missoula, MT. 128 pp
LREP, Inc. 1994. Eldora Environmental Preservation Plan. Prepared for Eldora Civic Association and Boulder County Nature Association. January 31, 1994.
Description of Alternative 4- “Infill Alternative” Proposed by Middle Boulder Creek Coalition
April 7, 2014
Our Infill Alternative fulfills the purpose and need stated in the DEIS by:
1) Replacing the Challenge and Cannonball lifts with a 6-person detachable type lift.
2) Replacing the Indian Peaks lift with a detachable 4 or 6 person chairlift. This would better withstand wind and eliminate the need for the Placer lift, and would keep the ski area within the SUP boundary that was extended in 1997.
3) Replacing the existing Corona lift with a detachable 6-person chairlift.
4) Creating additional intermediate and advanced intermediate terrain within the current SUP. This can be accomplished by adding the following runs: C1 and C3 as indicated on DEIS Figure 2 (Alternative 2, Proposed Action), which also shows Runs P1 and P3 leading to the bottom of Indian Peaks lift. The lower part of the Indian Peaks lift line could also be widened to provide more intermediate terrain. See accompanying map.
5) Expand and improve on-mountain guest services and parking as described for the proposed action in the DEIS.
We feel that the additional trails indicated above will increase the acreage of intermediate and advanced intermediate terrain but will not significantly impact wildlife, slope stability, or Middle Boulder Creek, as the proposed action would do.
We do not propose expanding the Jolly Jug pod beyond the current SUP boundary or creating new runs there.
ATTACHMENT 2, MAP OF MBCC INFILL ALTERNATIVE – SENT AS A SEPARATE FILE
ATTACHMENT 3, FOREST SERVICE FEN POLICY – SENT AS A SEPARATE FILE
ATTACHMENT 4, ARTICLE FROM THE UTAH STATESMAN ON SNOWMAX:
From the Utah Statesman, Utah State University, Logan, UT
Fake snow could cause real trouble
Published: Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Updated: Monday, August 9, 2010 14:08
Using artificial snow as a replacement for lulls in snowfall on Utah’s ski slopes is causing Utah State University biologists to take a closer look at its possible detrimental side effects on the ecosystem.
Snomax, a commercial snow inducer used in snow-making machines, contains a bacteria that may be harmful to the ecology of Utah’s alpine forests, especially in the ski resort areas, said Jon Takemoto, a USU biology professor involved in the research.
If the research proves successful, USU biologists will be able to alter the bacteria before it causes any permanent damage to the ecosystem, but completing the research is still years in the future, Takemoto said.
“The next step in our research is to go out into the forest or onto the ski slopes to begin documenting any effects that are being caused by Snomax,” Takemoto said. “I hope we’ll be doing that for the next few years.”
However, York Snow Inc., the international company that produces Snomax, has used its product in the most environmentally sensitive areas in the world, said Jay Collins, western regional manager for York Snow Inc. “Once people submit to real research information, there’s is no issue,” Collins said.
Snomax is a ice-nucleating protein readily found in nature, which causes frost to form on vegetation such as leaves, fruits and vegetables. It is not harmful to human beings and has not had any harmful effects on vegetation up to this point, Collins said.
However, Snomax contains anti-microbial compounds, Takemoto said, that have the potential of killing root-associated fungi that plants depend on for nutrients and water.
Although it may take several years, the deterioration of this fungi could eventually kill trees covering the hillsides of ski resorts throughout the state.
“It takes a while for this (fungi) to get down into the soil and they (Utah ski resorts) have only been spraying heavily for past five years,” said Henry Nowak, manager of USU Small Business Accelerator who is working on the commercialization of this research.
Camille Swasey, a graduate student who has been working on the project since it began, said within a year, they will have a better idea of whether or not Snomax is effecting vegetation.
However, through greenhouse testing on plants, Swasey noticed the more Snomax that was applied to the plants, the less they grew.
As for now, the Nowak is waiting for a patent approval for the research, which he filed about five months ago. “The lab results are very interesting and they could have major implications,” Nowak said. “If you take the most pessimistic end of the spectrum, this could totally kill everything on these slopes.”
Despite the negative implications from the product, additional research has been done to use Snomax as an environmentally-friendly insecticide. Hypothetically, insects that destroy vegetation on the hillsides could eat the artificial snow and freeze at a higher temperature, Collins said.
The company has also proven Snomax to be a safe non-pathogenic organism and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service has regulated its commercial development.
“If the univerity needs any assistance or additional information, we would love to work with them to help them speed their investigation along so they don’t have to cover the same information again,” Collins said.
Currently, Snomax is used most ski resorts throughout Utah except those in Little and Big Cottonwood canyons, Collins said.
“Over half the major ski resorts in the world now use Snowmax,” Takemoto said. “Snomax snow seems to be so much better and desirable.”
However, because it is fairly expensive, smaller ski resorts such as Beaver Mountain just depend on Mother Nature to provide snow.
“It requires millions of gallons of water and the snow makers are very, very expensive,” said Marge Seeholzer, owner of Beaver Mountain. The resort owns one snow maker that they use when they have an unusually dry winter season.
 Data is available from this location going back to 2010. Additional data needed for an adequate wind study would include wind direction. However, the data sent to the Forest Service and SE Group, from a location only a short distance away from the bottom terminal of the proposed Placer Lift, gives a good indication that this proposed lift would experience wind problems similar to those of the existing lifts.
 Again, good data would determine the prevailing wind direction.
 For example, the Four O’Clock and Moose Glade Express lifts, both in the Master Plan, would not be constructed under any of the action alternatives. See 2011 Master Plan, Chapter 5 and Figure 5.
 See DEIS at 2-46. The uphill capacity of the Corona Lift would increase from 1800 to 2400 people per hour, and the new Challenge lift would have a slightly higher capacity than the existing Challenge and Cannonball lifts. The fixed grip chairs, which would be replaced, “provide a slower and less desirable experience”. Id. at 1-6.
 It is also questionable that blasting in spring when there is snow on the ground would reduce noise. It might also be more difficult, i. e., require more explosives or number of blasts, to move frozen ground.
 Habitat effectiveness is defined as:
The degree to which habitat is free of human disturbance and available for wildlife to use. Effective habitat is mostly undisturbed land area which is buffered (at least 300 feet in essentially all situations) from regular motorized and nonmotorized use of roads and trails (11 or more people of vehicle trips per week).
Plan at G-24.
 Golden-crowned kinglet are found in larger intertrail islands at EMR (3-185); marten are in mature spruce-fir in intertrail islands (3-179), and olive-sided flycatcher are in larger mixed-conifer intertrail islands (3-177).
 Part of the Jenny Creek Trail through the proposed Jolly Jug pod is downhill heading into the backcountry.
 DEIS p. 2-17 mentions a right-of-way, but id. at 3-21 says an easement would be obtained. For legal purposes, an easement may not be the same thing as a right-of-way. This must be clarified.
 A goal/desired condition for the Boulder Creeks Geographic Area, which includes EMR, states: “Work and cooperate with [EMR]…formalize access through the ski area for the Jenny Creek crosscountry (sic) ski trail”. Forest Plan at 54.
 DEIS 3-59 states: “The popularity of [the Hessie/4th of July Road area] area has … stressed parking
resources on CR 130”.