On Tuesday, amid tears, applause, hoots and hollers, the Mono County Board of Supervisors held an open discussion on the recent announcement from Mammoth Mountain Ski Area that June Mountain would be closed this summer as well as the winter season of 2012/13.
In attendance was a huge outpouring of the June Lake community, members of neighboring towns such as Lee Vining, and representatives of the Forest Service. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area CEO Rusty Gregory did not attend but was expected to speak at the June Lake CAC meeting on July 10 at 7 p.m. at the June Lake Community Center.
District Ranger Jon Regelbrugge explained that MMSA had not notified them of the plans to close June Mountain until June 20 — the day before the ski area was set to open for its summer operations. The surprise the Forest Service felt was echoed by many in the room, including Supervisor Byng Hunt who said he was “appalled that I had not been warned in advance as a County Supervisor.”
Co-owner of the Double Eagle Resort in June Lake, Connie Black said she felt “blindsided” when the announcement was made public. “It was not appropriate for handling such as delicate situation,” she said.
“We told them [MMSA] that we were disappointed that we were not notified until after the decision was made,” Regelbrugge said. He was told by MMSA that pressing issues forced them into making the decision.
Regelbrugge also explained that operation of a ski area at June Mountain was a term and condition of MMSA’s special use permit issued by the Forest Service. “If they are not operating the ski area they will be out of compliance,” he said. “Our first step is to notify them and give them time to correct the compliance issue.”
Regelbrugge said that he had already met with MMSA Vice President Jim Smith as well as Director of Government Relations and Environmental Affairs Ron Cohen (Cohen was in attendance at Tuesday’s Board meeting). He was been told that MMSA did not plan to mothball things at June.
“They plan to operate it in the future, so they will be keeping things in working order,” Regelbrugge said, adding that he has been told the closure is a temporary situation.
“We do understand the importance of this ski area for the local community and economy,” he added.
Community members then came forward in an orderly manner. They had composed a brief agenda of their own on which they described the four items they would like to see the Board review and take action on, as well as the names of the speakers that would be coming to the podium.
The four items:
1. To instruct Mono County Counsel to expeditiously research all of the legal ramifications of the June Mountain Ski Area closure.
2. To identify any potential Forest Service Lease/Permit violations that could results from this closure.
3. To assist in the development of a study of the impact on fiscal, recreational, school and community services this closure would evoke.
4. To confer with the Forest Service representatives and request that no modifications be made to the existing Forest Service Lease/Permit without input from the County Board of Supervisors and the June Lake Community Advisory Committee (CAC).
The Board heard from many members of the community, including Doug Smith, who operates Grant Lake. His operation also runs under the privilege of a Forest Service Special Use Permit. He pointed out that several years ago when the area was experiencing a drought and Grant Lake’s water levels were extremely low, he went to the Forest Service and told them he wanted to close down his operation that summer.
“The Forest Service told me that I needed to change my management plan to keep it open to the public,” Smith said. “I was told I should try to operate as best as I could, so I cut my staff and I did,” he added, making the point that all special use permits should be treated equally.
Ralph Lockhart, co-owner of Double Eagle brought some numbers into the equation.
“The Double Eagle has 32 rentable units,” he said. “During the shortened ski season at June we lost $182,000 in lodging and $42,000 in spa.” More than $30,000 was also lost in the restaurant at the resort. Lockhart equated these numbers to a $22,000 loss in TOT revenue and another $5,700 loss in sales tax in the county.
“The question to MMSA is ‘How long do you plan to be closed?'” Lockhart said.
Many are hoping this question and more will be answered on July 10 when Gregory speaks to the community.
One thing was for sure, according to June Mountain General Manager Carl Williams, the numbers for June Mountain “are not a pretty picture.” If someone were to buy it from MMSA, as has been suggested, Williams said they “would need to have a ton of money and expect no return.”
Lockhart pointed out that it would cost MMSA “about a half a million” to maintain the ski area for a year. “What is the delta really between $500,000 and $1.5 million,” he asked in reference to the $1.5 million it has been said June has been losing for the past few years. “And, how much of that $1.5 million is administrative costs that won’t go away,” he continued.
“None,” responded Williams.
For more on this story, see this week’s print version of The Sheet, on newsstands Friday.