Above Mammoth Lakes, warm air meets cold air. The droplets freeze, then fall. Snow.
Onto my car. Feet. A couple hours and a few curse words later, my car is shoveled out. Beside it, a pile of snow.
The plow driver arrives and shoves the snow into a bank. Later, a loader comes and trucks it to a designated storage area.
For years – through a long-term lease agreement – the Forest Service provided a snow pit for the town. In 2005, that permit expired.
Since then, the Forest Service has conducted an annual re-evaluation before issuing a temporary, special use permit that grants the town access to the pit.
Approval for that temporary permit does not require the town to conduct a thorough, lengthy environmental analysis in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act. Approval for a long-term permit does. “[A long-term permit] would be ideal,” said Lisa Cox of the Forest Service. It would provide a more sustainable operation.
The system seemed good enough. Get re-approval each year for a temporary permit. Dodge the environmental analysis. Store the snow in the Forest Service snowpit.
But, this year, that temporary, special use permit has yet to be issued by the Forest Service.
Meaning: the town had to find someplace else to store their snow.
Cox told The Sheet that the permit evaluation for this winter is still underway.
Ed. note: Hopefully, it’ll get done by the time the snow flies …
“We have a new [Mammoth Lakes] district ranger [Fred Wong],” said Cox. “He’s jumping in and figuring out how he wants to continue this permit with the town.” Wong did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.
The ranger district wants to ensure that there aren’t any major environmental impacts to the surrounding forest in regard to storing snow. Cox said that an operating plan is currently being drafted, but she did not know when it would be finalized.
“The big thing we want to make sure is done is testing,” said Cox. “We’re gonna be requiring analysis of the content of the snow” to ensure that there are no environmental contaminants leaking into the soil or groundwater, “which happens a lot of the time.” Cox pointed to big trucks leaking diesel and other contaminants into highway snow, which would then be plowed and stored on forest service land.
Historically, the temporary permit has only allowed storage of snow from public roadways. Which is hard to regulate. What’s stopping the town from “accidentally” pushing snow from private land onto a public drive and then taking it to the forest service’s snowpit?
“The special use permit administrator does regular audits and checks,” said Cox. But that doesn’t cut it. Which is why a plan for snow regulation is going to be included in the new operating plan drafted by the Forest Service. Once the permit is drafted and approved, the town will have to record where all their to-be-stored snow is coming from and keep track of it in a methodical way.
But, It’s the middle of December. So far, the town has seen three significant snowstorms. Where’s that snow going?
The town’s leasing Snowcreek VIII. For three years. While they work on a long-term snowpit solution. Public Works Director Haislip Hayes did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.
I asked the Mammoth Lakes Town Council (at their Wednesday meeting) what their plan was for snow storage in the future (e.g. whether they would do an environmental analysis, where the Town was at in the process of re-approval for a permit from the Forest Service).
Dan Holler, Mammoth Lakes Town Manager, said that the process for getting a permit from the Forest Service this year will take a long time. In the meantime, the Snowcreek VIII lot off Old Mammoth Road will be sufficient.
Alongside Snowcreek VIII, the town has snow storage sites in the Village Parking lot and on private properties around town.
With two superintendents, 11 full time operators, 6 mechanics, and one of three seasonal positions filled, snow management staff are prepared for more storms to come.
Alongside snow removal is the Snow Patrol, which will document snow conditions and respond to stuck/abandoned vehicles and snow storage issues.
As always, follow the chain restrictions when in effect, and stash a shovel in your vehicle if you decide to drive during a storm.