Ski Area’s Williams says June Mountain decision is final
June Mountain Ski Area General Manager Carl Williams told the full house of concerned citizens who attended the Keep June Mountain Open Coalition (KJMOC) meeting in June Lake on Wednesday evening that despite their best efforts, “June Mountain will not operate this season.”
And to make it perfectly clear, he repeated it twice.
The news appeared to stun Double Eagle Resort Owner Connie Black, who moderated the meeting. Prior to Williams’ statement, she had said, “If we don’t continue [pressing forward] and get June Mountain open this year, the odds of getting it open in future years are slim.”
Black and fellow KJMOC members had just spent the previous 20 minutes talking about the number of meetings they’d had and who they’d contacted.
At a July 10 meeting, Black said Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory had outlined three things he needed [to even consider opening June]: for the County to approve a $100,000 commercial air service subsidy, entitlements on the zoning of the Rodeo Grounds property, and assurance that June Lake’s vision and development strategy would support a ski area. (In short: put a lot more heads on a lot more beds.)
“I heard we had time,” said Black.
Williams, who attended the July 10 meeting, replied, “We said two weeks. It’s been two weeks. Time’s up.”
Fellow KJMOC member Patti Heinrich said if the Mountain wouldn’t open, then she wouldn’t support an air service subsidy or any modifications to the June Lake Area Plan. Her statement met with applause from those inside the packed June Lake Community Center.
Then the odds of opening anytime in the future become less and less, said Williams.
As Williams said, he’s already let go 17 full-time employees and the only two people he has left have spent the past 45-60 days putting things to bed, as opposed to readying equipment for next season. “The decision to not operate is a financial one, and conditions haven’t changed within the last 45 days.” Inspection and routine maintenance of lifts to get them ready for the season costs approximately $300,000 according to Connie Black (via the July 10 meeting with Gregory and Williams).
“We need a ton of snow, and Mammoth Mountain needs to make a shit-pile of money [for June to even have the possibility of opening in 2013-2014],” Williams added.
So where does that leave June Lake and Mono County?
A lot poorer.
June Lake resident Chris Edwards said he will immediately apply for a Prop. 8 property tax reduction of at least 50%, and figured everyone in June Lake would do the same.
Double Eagle Resort Owner Ralph Lockhart said the Double Eagle remitted $45,000 to the County in transient occupancy tax from December 2010 through March 2011. “We wouldn’t pay 20% of that if June Mountain closed this year.”
While Inyo National Forest Supervisor Ed Armenta said he cares about the community and is “deeply concerned,” he also warned that permit holders have rights, certainly the right to appeal if a permit is revoked, and that whatever process occurs will take time.
Mammoth Lakes District Ranger Jon Regelbrugge also noted that Mammoth Mountain owns the improvements on its leased property. It’s not as simple as asking MMSA to leave and bringing in a new operator.
The ever-popular Forest Service did not escape its share of derision, however. Regelbrugge noted that there is just one attorney at the Department of Agriculture who is responsible for legal matters at 18 National Forests. The guy is based in San Francisco and has just happened to be out of the office on vacation for the past two weeks. It’s this attorney who can issue a letter of non-compliance, “the only hammer we have [to force MMSA] to get off the stick,” said one disgruntled member of the audience.
Regelbrugge responded defensively. “We don’t have a trump card that could force Mammoth Mountain’s hand in a week.”
The assembled crowd did achieve one small victory. After a night of haranguing about what it would cost to buy June Mountain, Carl Williams did say it had an asset value of $14 million. However, he also said the Mountain is not for sale and that even if it was, any buyer would take one look at the books and run the other direction.
Mono Tourism meeting notes
Prior to many questions regarding JMSA’s future getting answered Wednesday, ideas and speculation ran rampant during a meeting of the Mono County Tourism Commission the previous day. Lockhart said the Keep June Mountain Open Coalition had called for an emergency meeting of the Mono Board of Supervisors on July 31 to present a package of potential ideas to put before Gregory regarding how to potentially open JMSA for the winter season.
With so much now taken off the table, exactly what the supervisors will discuss at that meeting remains to be seen. Gregory has been invited to that meeting, but why he would attend now is also a mystery.
Tourism Chair Jimmy Little said he thinks that a statement reportedly made by Gregory about June not have a clear vision represents something of a disconnect between Gregory and the community. Rebranding and chairlift upgrades are ideas Lockhart thinks Gregory will resist until he sees more detail on how June Lake will build on its lodging and development markets.
Gregory, according to Lockhart, called selling and subleasing JMSA “stupid ideas.”
“It was like extortion,” current District 4 Supervisor Tim Hansen said of the earlier June Lake CAC meeting with Gregory. Hansen said he found Gregory’s responses “offensive,” and railed against Mammoth Lakes’ “doubling down” on air service. He also called attempts to link air service and June Mountain’s predicament essentially “extorting and further trying to shame the County into putting in more money.”
Mono Economic Development Manager Alicia Vennos defended air service, pointing out that visitors flying in tend to stay longer and that research show the money spent tends to be higher.
“The County has a huge role to play here [in June Lake],” Little charged. “If tourism goes away, money to provide resources for other things goes away.”
“Does this community want a ski area, does it benefit the community and if so what are we willing to do to keep it?” Lockhart summed up.