June Lake continues efforts to survive upcoming winter season without the Mountain
A month of research led Mono County Counsel Marshall Rudolph to the same conclusion he made when it was first announced that June Mountain was going to close: the issue is between the Forest Service and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, and the County really can’t do anything to control the situation.
“The County would need clear, expressed intent to be a third party beneficiary, but we are not,” Rudolph said. “We are simply an incidental beneficiary; we can’t step in.”
He added in his Tuesday report to the Board of Supervisors that the June Mountain use permit language is unclear regarding whether or not the Forest Service can even compel operations.
“The conditions of operation are repair, sanitation and safeness,” he said. “There is no language that says you shall be open every season.”
He pointed out that everything, including permit forms, at the United States Forest Service is standardized.
“They are given a template to plug things into,” Rudolph said. “There’s no leeway to tweak things like there is at our [County] level. Going against a standard form is not an easy or quick process.”
Again, he reiterated that things are not clear in the permit, even though the permit is considered the guiding document.
“MMSA can appeal any decision the Forest Service makes,” Rudolph said.
Which is why, according to FS District Ranger Jon Regelbrugge, the Forest Service has yet to send MMSA a notice of non-compliance.
“To us, not being open to the public means not operating, which means non-compliant,” Regelbrugge said at Tuesday’s meeting. “But MMSA has expressed that it has a difference of opinion and they are likely to dispute any action the Forest Service takes, so we are taking our time. When we rush to revocation, we typically lose an appeal.”
Rudolph pointed out that the permit does allow for other uses on the Mountain, but it can’t just be opened up to anything and no one but MMSA can be allowed to operate the infrastructure because it belongs to MMSA.
“Liabilities and MMSA equipment have to be taken into account when discussing other uses,” Rudolph said.
In regard to last week’s request from Supervisor Larry Johnston to have June Mountain appraised to get a real idea of what it could sell for, Rudolph said the County couldn’t force MMSA to provide the necessary information for an appraisal.
“But it has been appraised recently for tax purposes and the roll value is a matter of public record and something that the public could look at,” he said. He recalled that the taxable value was $3-4 million.
“MMSA is not opposed to an appraisal, but would first want to know more details about how it would be used and who would be reviewing it,” Rudolph said of a conversation he had with MMSA’s legal counsel Ron Cohen.
In the meantime, the Keep June Mountain Open Coalition has begun working with the County Economic Development Department to come up with ideas for keeping the community afloat this winter.
“The Economic Development Department is ready to market whatever the community wants, but we need to determine what is reliable to market,” said Economic Development Director Dan Lyster.
Ralph Lockhart, co-owner of the Double Eagle stated that the KJMOC believed the highest priority and most important thing in June Lake was getting June Mountain open again. Until that time comes, the Coalition had a list of items that it would like to see marketed, including Nordic skiing, ice skating, dog sledding and laser light shows.
“These are all great ideas to supplement a ski area,” said Supervisor Tim Hansen. “I admire your tenacity and I would support your effort to show that the County is backing this, but I don’t think it will work. I have a terrible attitude about the whole thing.”
“Our goal is to convince lodging operators and other businesses to open their doors this winter,” Lockhart explained. “We need to work with the Forest Service on permitted uses. We are asking the Board to invest funds to help bridge this year. We are facing an 80% drop in stays and millions in economic activity.”
One idea would be to try to get people who like to stay in June Lake to stay there again and simply drive or be bussed to ski in Mammoth.
But Supervisor Hap Hazard was concerned with timeframes.
“Even with money, can these things be done?” he asked. “New trails have to go through a permitting process. The Forest Service needs to comment on a timeframe. There are a lot of coordination and technical questions that need to be answered before we open our checkbook.”
Hazard suggested that since MMSA would be saving $1.5 million this year by not operating June, the community should ask them to make a donation.
Regelbrugge stated that a lot of activities would require permitting, depending on where and what, but Supervisor Vikki Bauer asked why they needed to reinvent the wheel.
“A lot of the stuff [trails] is already there,” she said. “But we could use a PR firm to advertise what is already there,” she added, following up on the suggestion from the KJMOC to hire such a firm.
Bauer also felt that funding a bus that would drive from June Lake to Mammoth was critical. That way, not only could people staying in June get over to Mammoth to ski, but with a reliable source of transportation, June Lake residents would also be able to look for work in Mammoth.
The Board agreed that it wanted to provide funding to the community of June Lake and a $100,000 figure was repeatedly thrown around, but since it was not scheduled to take action on the item on Tuesday, the discussion will continue at the Board’s Aug. 14 meeting.
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