The debate over the proposed Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (MMSA) land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service continued at Tuesday’s June Lake Citizens Advisory Committee meeting, yet apart from a few barbed comments, the mood on the whole was one of resignation. Mono County District 3 Supervisor Tim Alpers presented to the public a draft letter from the Mono County Board of Supervisors to Senate and Congressional representatives regarding the reopening of June Mountain Ski Area (JMSA), as well as the MMSA land trade.
“We’ve been accused of doing things in closed session, not going out to the public, [and] making unilateral decisions,” Alpers said of the Board. To correct this perception, he sought to reach out to the June Lake community for feedback on the letter, which stated Board support for the land exchange, among other items.
According to the letter, “Although there is no apparent legal connection between this land exchange and the management of the June Mountain Ski Area, the two are inextricably linked by MMSA ownership and operation on Federal lands.” This particular linkage of JMSA to the land exchange infuriated MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory, said Alpers. “Rusty and Tim Alpers did not sit down and write this [together],” he said.
The letter also states that Board support for the land exchange “is contingent upon MMSA’s continued funding and implementation of June Mountain Ski Area’s improvement plan consistent with the proposal outlined by MMSA at the 4/9/13 Board of Supervisors meeting.”
At this meeting, Rusty Gregory pledged to reopen June Mountain for summer activities, including weddings and the June Lake Triathlon dinner, as well as reopen JMSA seven days a week starting this December, and installing new snowmaking equipment and a new lift up the face of the mountain by the 2015/16 winter season.
Alpers acknowledged the financial incentive behind Mono County’s support for the MMSA land exchange. He pointed out looming financial challenges facing Mono County in the next five to fifteen years, including a need for $26 million to replace County equipment to meet California Air Resources standards by 2028. Mono County will need to produce $6 million of that $26 million in the next five years. “We’re looking down the barrel at some real problems,” he said. “The only way is to grow our way out of it.” Alpers suggested that a development at the base of Mammoth Mountain, which the land trade would facilitate, is critical to this growth.
According to Alpers, the project at the base of Mammoth Mountain has an assessed evaluation of $500 million. Of the 1% in property taxes that would come off that, 40% would go to Mono County.
The 40% of the 1% of property taxes that the County keeps in such instances accounts for 80% of what it costs to run the County, said Alpers. “We’re totally dependent on the success of Mammoth Lakes,” he said.
Alpers also explained that, according to MMSA Vice President of Real Estate Jim Smith, the project could create 500 jobs.
June Lake citizens were not placated by the promise of an increase in funds to the County, should the land exchange find traction again with the House of Representatives. Currently the land exchange is stalled, after Mono County’s new Congressman, Paul Cook, re-introduced a land exchange bill formerly supported by Congressman Buck McKeon, which failed to make it through the Senate last year.
Alice Suszynski of the Committee for a Viable June Lake called holding the new bill in purgatory a form of leverage, “until we see changes at June Mountain. At least we have promises [from Rusty Gregory], but promises were not kept before. We need to hold Mammoth Mountain Ski Area accountable.” Suszynski referred to Gregory’s promises in 2008 to upgrade June Mountain, promises that would have come to fruition in 2012. Suszynski also noted that while Gregory had recently promised to improve the marketing for JMSA, a new billboard in Bishop makes no mention of June. “June is never going to be relevant,” she said. “If we give up this leverage, we’re at the mercy of whatever Mammoth decides to do with us.”
Michael Bogash, another member of the Committee for a Viable June Lake, questioned the Board’s apparent hurry to approve the land exchange. “If we could just get our improvements in place, I think everybody would be supportive,” he said.
However, Alpers argued that the perceived leverage gained by June Lake in gridlocking the land exchange “has a shelf life. It gets to a certain point where Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is going to plow through no matter what happens and get the land trade,” he said.
Suszynski disagreed. “I’m sure the Board of Supervisors letter is going to make a change [in the status of the land exchange bill],” she said. Were the Board to refrain from stating its support, the bill might continue to hang in limbo. However, should the bill pass through the House, a process that could take a year, it must then pass through the Senate, across the President’s desk, and then undergo the NEPA [National Environmental Police Act] process.
Keith Potter, who identified himself as a lifelong June resident, offered one of the few impassioned defenses of the bill and land exchange. “Even though you have the biggest mouths in town, you don’t speak for the whole county,” he said in reference to the Committee for a Viable June Lake. “I’ve been in the ski industry for 40 years, and it sucks,” he said. But, he added, “[June] Mountain is going to open next year. We can keep pissing and moaning, or we can all get behind the wagon and make this thing work.”
Suszynski’s reply: “I hope you get what’s promised you.”
Michael Bogash concluded on a placating note. “I would like to move forward,” he said, “if the community thinks [the land trade] is the best thing for the community. I really thought we were doing something [good]. But it is over if the Board of Supervisors chooses to support the bill.”
Although Alpers noted another opportunity for public input on the draft letter at the June 18 Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting, Suszynski was skeptical of having any impact on the Board’s final decision.
“I know there will be somebody from our group [present],” she said. “But it’s kind of hard to believe that they’d listen any further to anything else we have to say.”