A stakeholders meeting was held last week to discuss potential timelines for opening the Lakes Basin and Red’s Meadow to the public.
Best estimate for the Lakes Basin: July 1.
Best estimate for Red’s Meadow: Mid-July at the earliest.
In regard to the Lakes Basin, Mammoth Lakes Public Works Director Haislip Hayes said the Town has been evaluating the snowpack on a regular basis and that there is no set schedule. The initial target to begin plowing is June 19. He said this can take “a few days or up to a week.”
But the formal opening, he said, is determined by the Forest Service. “And that may be another week or two after that,” said Hayes, noting the electrical and water systems are down.
In the meantime, “you can always walk back there,” he said.
Red’s Meadow access is made more complicated this year by the federal highways project to rebuild the road which is supposed to commence this summer.
Herback General Engineering of Minden, Nev. holds the $31.6 million road reconstruction/rehabilitation contract via the U.S. Department of Transportation.
At the stakeholder meeting, a Herback representative, according to Hayes, asked that the snow be allowed to “melt naturally” – the rationale being that a lot of Herback’s work will be done on the road shoulders and piling snow into a berm on the side of the road would be self-defeating.
According to Hayes, “We offered to blow the snow into the woods [which would eliminate the berms]. But they said no.”
Mammoth Mountain’s Clifford Mann views the “melt naturally” strategy as the crux of the problem.
Mann, who has a mere half-century of experience dealing with Red’s Meadow Road, says “As soon as you open a face of snow, it melts that much faster … I’d plow it in a minute if they told me I could.”
In the last big snow year of 2017, Mann said Red’s Meadow Read was opened sometime around June 24, but because of water damage to the road, bus service didn’t commence until mid-July.
Bobby Tanner, owner of Red’s Meadow Resort and Pack Station, said that if we wait for the snow to melt naturally, we may be waiting until August 1.
Waiting, stalling, delaying … this may be the contractor’s strategy. Herback has reportedly stated it needs at least a three-month window to make mobilization worthwhile. Stall long enough and you can claim that extraordinary circumstances beyond your control prevent you from fulfilling your contract.
As local businessman Tom Cage, who attended last week’s meeting, said, “The contractor could be dragging his feet because deep down, it makes sense not to go at all this year.”
Stalling has real world impacts on the Town, on businessmen like Tanner, on entities like Eastern Sierra Transit (ESTA).
What happens if the contractor flakes and then the Town is left scrambling to plow the road and get it open six weeks later than it might otherwise have?
ESTA Executive Director Phil Moores said a delayed opening of Red’s Meadow Road will have a $300,000-$400,000 financial impact on his organization, which typically ferries 40,000 to 60,000 riders per summer down to Red’s Meadow at approximately $14 a pop.
The financial blow will prove particularly acute this year as Moores says ESTA’s wages and expenses have soared this year.
For example, he pointed to a recent engine replacement which cost $67,000.
Two years ago, he said that same replacement would have cost $36,000.
When asked how he could survive a greatly abbreviated summer season, Tanner replied bluntly, “I don’t.”
“If they stick with this plan, the open will be mid-August … if they allow the road to open at all.”
Peak season ends in mid-August, noted Tanner. “We usually start struggling for employees in mid-August.”
Further, the contractor, noted Tanner, has the right to close the road entirely beginning in mid-September.
As Mann observed, there’s been a loose stakeholders’ agreement over the years regarding roles and responsibilities. He thinks the forest rangers over the past five years or so have paid less attention to this historical understanding.
“The Postpile is an incredible draw,” he said. “But our hands are tied.”
John Urdi, Executive Director of Mammoth Lakes Toursim, said, “Devil’s Postpile is our number one draw for summer. Visitation numbers down there are massive. We get calls in the middle of winter asking about it.”
“We’re trying to get it open as quickly as possible,” said Haislip Hayes. “But we have to be respectful of the process.”
And the processional line has Federal Highways and its contractor at the head.
But as Mann said, “The federal guy has got a boss somewhere.”
The 2nd annual Eastern Sierra Pride Festival takes place this weekend at the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Bishop.
Event organizer Deena Davenport-Conway said last year’s event drew nearly 1,000 people, and she expects this year’s attendance to top that.
What’s new this year: Two nights of dancing versus one (*On the second night’s DJ Kally). More vendors. An appearance by Pattie Gonia, an environmental activist and drag queen (see p. 7), who will be performing at Friday’s drag show and then hosting the family day on Saturday.
And, as a precaution, heightened security. “I’ve had people express fear,” said Davenport-Conway, which she attributes to a fear-stoking media pushing an anti-California, anti-progressive narrative.
Just this Wednesday, a headline in the Wall Street Journal read, “Kohl’s Becomes Latest Casualty in the Culture Wars.”
The lead: “Kohl’s stock fell 5.1% on Tuesday after a social media blitz called for a boycott of the department store based on its Pride Month merchandise … Anheuser-Busch was the subject of an earlier consumer boycott after sending a personalized Bud Light can to a transgender influencer. Its stock is down 18% since early April, when the influencer posted a video about the beer can.”
Target has also pulled products related to Pride Month after backlash from customers caused employees to feel unsafe.
Nevertheless, Davenport Conway remains undaunted. “It’s important that [the Eastern Sierra Pride Festival] appeal to everyone. We want to create a diverse experience.”
“And we will be serving Bud Light,” she said with a laugh.
The Sheet is a sponsor of the Pride Festival.