Thursday evening was the first public meeting regarding the Mammoth Base Area Land Exchange between Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and the U.S. Forest Service.
The land exchange, which MMSA has been trying to move forward with for years would exchange approximately 20 acres of Forest Service lands at MMSA, which the company currently operates under a permit from the agency, for more than 1,700 acres of other lands in several counties.
Precisely, the exchange would “Convey 20.6 acres of National Forest System lands within the boundaries of the Inyo National Forest and currently managed as part of a Ski Area Term Special Use Permit to MMSA in exchange for approximately 1,715 acres of privately owned lands located within the boundaries of the Inyo, Plumas, Eldorado and Stanislaus national forests and approximately 14 acres of privately owned land in two small parcels in Inyo County, California that are outside the boundaries of the Inyo National Forest,” according to the land exchange documents.
“We’ve accepted MMSA’s proposal to entertain a land trade,” explained Jon Regelbrugge, District Ranger for Mammoth and Mono Lake Ranger Districts. “We are starting the formal NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] process,” he added, which includes public scoping and input.
On Wednesday, Regelbrugge explained that the meeting would give an overview of what’s proposed in the exchange and how it would work.
However, some local agencies were perturbed that they hadn’t been brought into the fold prior to the kick off of the public process.
Specifically, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, which just found out about the public scoping at its regular meeting this week. Supervisors were upset for several reasons.
The first complaint was from Supervisor Susan Cash. “I’ve spoken with supervisors from these counties and none of them were aware of this,” Cash said. She and other members of the Board thought that Inyo National Forest Supervisor Ed Armenta should have brought this information to Inyo and the other involved counties long before the process reached the stage of a public scoping meeting in Mammoth.
“I get the feeling that even if we were so inclined, we wouldn’t be able to stop this process now,” said Cash. She promised a “bumpy ride” for Armenta as a consequence for the lack of Forest Service-Inyo County coordination.
Supervisors were particularly concerned that they would be losing private land parcels, and wouldn’t be getting anything in exchange from the deal, just a loss in tax revenue. They were concerned about the parcel within the limits of the city of Bishop, although exchanging that parcel would require new legislature. Cash was also perturbed that the parcel that includes the shoreline of Taylor Lake in Plumas County could be up-for-grabs for the LADWP, which could potentially secure water rights.
Supervisors also pointed out that “the Forest Service can’t even keep their restrooms from overflowing,” so this really isn’t the time to expand forest lands by more than 1,700 acres.
“We’ve heard the cries about no money from the Forest Service,” said Supervisor Linda Arcularius. “Why give more private land to the Forest Service? Why can’t there just be a transaction between you and Mammoth Mountain?”
According to Armenta, the Forest Service doesn’t have the authority to do an outright sale.
As to overflowing restrooms, Regelbrugge didn’t comment on that but did say this deal is about “looking at the long-term picture. We want to continue to hold lands for future generations.”
Cash called for “an analysis of what the effect of this will be on Inyo County, and whether or not it adheres to the General Plan.”
Armenta stated, “This is a long process, it’s just started, and there could be some major tweaks in this.”
According to Regelbrugge, the parcels that MMSA would exchange with the Forest Service would include the 120 acres along Mono Lake previously owned by Bill Cunningham. After a lot of back and forth, MMSA purchased the parcel from Cunningham in recent years with the intent to someday use it in a trade such as this one.
The Cunningham parcel is currently owned by MMSA. The other parcels in the deal, meanwhile, are merely optioned, giving MMSA flexibility if the deal doens’t pan out.
At the meeting Thursday evening, Jim Webb of the Forest Service’s Regional Lands Adjustment Team first pointed out a slight change to the parcels that MMSA would use in this exchange.
“The Lundy Canyon Parcel has been dropped, bringing the acreage [being brought to the table by MMSA] down to 1,679,” Webb said.
Webb also walked attendees through the three exemptions that participants in this exchange would be asking for from Congress in order to allow this exchange to go through.
“This is not a legislated land exchange,” Webb said. “First, we must ask to acquire the two small parcels in Inyo County that are outside of the boundaries of the Inyo National Forest.” The parcels are currently owned by the DWP.
Second, the exchange is asking to be allowed to go outside of the 25% differential. In a Forest Service land exchange, the difference between the lands being offered by the proponent and the lands being asked for from the FS must equal 25% of hte value of the federal property.
“We are pretty sure that the non-federal lands will not equal 25% of the federal lands in question,” Webb said.
“The development potential of the 20 acreas at MMSA makes it much more valuable,” Regelbrugge further explained to The Sheet.
The third allowance being requested from Congress will be to take the cash equalization and put it in a Sisk Act account to be used to acquire more environmentally sensitive lands rather than sending the cash to the US Treasury.
“Say the total is $1 million and $750,000 of that is made up of the lands exchanged,” Webb said. “The remaining $250,000 [of cold, hard cash] is the cash equalization.”
So, whatever MMSA ends up having to pay the Forest Service to make up the difference in value between the non-federal and federal lands would be retained by the Forest Service to purchase more property.
Currently, the bill has been introduced to the House of Representative by Congressman Buck McKeon and is sitting in committee.
“We won’t complete the NEPA until we know whether or not this has been passed” Webb said.
MMSA Vice-President of Real Estate Jim Smith hinted that if the transaction were completed, MMSA would likely pursue the development model of selling private residential real estate on-site to finance Main Lodge redevelopment.
Sheet reporter Katie Vane contributed to this story.