Silverton Mountain permit sees daylight
BLM prepares to release final Environmental Impact Study

Storm Peak, home to Silverton Mountain ski area, is seen in this photo last winter. The final EIS on the ski area’s permit to operate on 1,300 acres of BLM land
is due to be out next month./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

After more than three years in the environmental planning process, the Bureau of Land Management is nearing completion of the final draft environmental impact statement for the Silverton Mountain ski area.

“Hopefully it will be out in the next month,” said Richard Speegle, recreation project leader for the BLM. “We’re working on it every day.”

The extreme ski area has been operating under a temporary permit on a guided skiing-only basis since 2002. In 1999, Silverton Mountain owner Aaron Brill submitted a proposal to the BLM to operate an expert backcountry skiing operation on 350 acres of his land and 1,300 acres of adjacent BLM land about six miles north of Silverton. He installed a double chairlift on his property, an old mining claim, in 2001 with visions of creating a powder skier’s paradise with inexpensive lift tickets and a 475-skier cap.

However, the dream was put on hold when the BLM ordered an environmental impact statement to assess the full impacts of the ski area. The draft of the EIS was issued last summer and outlined four alternatives for operating the ski area, including the preferred alternative – a mix of guided and unguided skiing. The comment period on the draft EIS closed Sept. 18.

Speegle said his office received about 50 comments on the draft EIS, which will be responded to in the final EIS.

“We learned a few things, and there’s some new information in the final EIS,” he said.

He said the comments centered on three main areas: snow safety, private land and wildlife.

Brill’s permit area boundary encircles land owned by Jim Jackson, who at one time proposed a large ski resort for Velocity Basin. There have been recent allegations that avalanches from control work and skiers from Silverton Mountain have been crossing into Jackson’s private property. However, Speegle said Brill has an agreement with San Juan County to perform control work to keep county roads 110 and 52 open, and the reports of trespassing skiers are unfounded.

“Denny Hogan, our snow ranger up there, said he’s not seeing any guided skiing outside the permit area,” he said.

Nevertheless, Speegle said settling private land disputes is not up to the BLM, and Brill and Jackson must come up with an agreement on their own. “We don’t see that as a BLM issue,” Speegle said.

The final EIS also will pay particular attention to the existence of lynx within the permit area, he said.

“There is lynx habitat up there and lynx are in the area,” he said, adding that the land between Ouray and Durango is considered a primary corridor for lynx travel. He said the BLM and Forest Service are consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife on how to manage the endangered cats.

As far as snow safety goes, Speegle said the BLM was encouraged by what it witnessed with this winter’s snowfall.

“So far, so good,” he said. “Aaron’s done a good job with the snow safety.”

Although the EIS has been three years in the making, Speegle said the timeline is pretty standard for a study as complex as this. He did say time was lost in the summer of 2002 when the San Juan Public Lands Center had to redirect energy to fighting the Missionary Ridge Fire.

Once the final EIS comes out, there will be a 30-day protest period. Under state law, the state government also has 60 days to review the EIS and sign off on it as well. From there, the EIS will go to the state BLM director for approval, and a record of decision will be issued.






News Index Second Index Opinion Index Classifieds Index Contact Index