As promised, Mono County Supervisor Tim Alpers sponsored an agenda item allowing June Lake residents to come forward at Tuesday’s Board meeting with any further comments or new information regarding the proposed reopening plan for June Mountain Ski Area presented by Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory a week ago.
Most locals present talked about their perceptions of Gregory’s poor treatment of JMSA and MMSA’s lack of stewardship. All present this week were against MMSA’s proposed land trade with the U.S. Forest Service, which would allow an upgrade and expansion of MMSA’s Main Lodge area. A bill introduced in the last Congress by Congressman Buck McKeon that would have authorized the land trade didn’t make it through the Senate. An identical bill, introduced this year by Mono County’s new Congressman, Paul Cook, is now in committee.
Several local and regional groups have said they are not supportive of the land trade at present, as has U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Many June locals ideally would like to see the land trade held in a sort of legislative purgatory, at least until Gregory follows through with his plan, and June sees money actually being put into JMSA.
But one interesting piece of relatively new information was raised. It stemmed from a previous thought expressed by Supervisor Larry Johnston. June local Dorothy Burdette asked him to elaborate further on an idea for a land trade that would swap the Rodeo Grounds in favor of some proposed development at the base of JMSA.
MMSA allowed its right of first refusal on the Rodeo Grounds property to expire on March 15. According to Daum Commercial, the company handling the Rodeo Grounds listing, the property is still on the market.
“I’d been suggesting a potential trade of the Rodeo Grounds’ 87 acres for a parcel of land at the base of JMSA,” Johnston said, adding his concept is for a better skier experience, from arrival at the ski area to ski in/ski out ability. “I don’t think anyone would oppose such an undertaking.”
The existing Rodeo Grounds, he suggested, has disadvantages to it because of its location and other drawbacks, one of which are the inevitable environmental lawsuits that might result from development. If the County were to purchase the Rodeo Grounds from Intrawest, ownership would change hands from one government agency to another -— the County would swap the current Rodeo Grounds with Forest Service land at JMSA.
Underlying water rights, Johnston said, are also part of the equation, which he indicated could be used for fire protection around the base of JMSA and snowmaking capabilities if the land were swapped. Many potential impacts could be minimized by the use of that water.
If the County were to be “stuck” with the Rodeo Grounds, there could be a simple lot split that would create four large lots that could be sold for private housing, and the County would make its money back, a low risk proposition according to Johnston. “It makes a much more sensible development proposal,” he said. Sustainability-oriented funding from grant and other streams could help buffer the cost. Would the USFS be willing to entertain such an option? “I’ve heard second hand that it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility,” he replied. “There’s no expectation of the deal ‘sailing through,’ but timing-wise it could work.” Johnston opined it could take 2-3 years to get approvals and construction underway, but the timing of such a land swap might be able to coincide with that timeline.
“I’m willing to take a risk here,” he stated. “I think it would lay into [MMSA’s] hands as an extremely viable project; it’s got some potential.”
Carl Williams, JMSA General Manager, was in the audience, but reserved comment.
Alpers said he wants to pull together all the information presented within the last nine months, and come forward with draft recommendations [likely in May] for action that he would like the Board to consider. “We had some encouraging news last week, but it needs to be refined a little further,” Alpers said. He also plans to meet with constituents and stakeholder groups during the coming days and weeks.
“I can guarantee you the Board is taking all this very seriously,” Board Chair Byng Hunt told those in attendance.