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Conversations have slowed between MMSA and Forest Service

September 7, 2012

A letter that would alert Mammoth Mountain Ski Area that it is “out of compliance” with its federal permit to run June Mountain as a ski area is still winding its way through local, regional and Washington D.C. U. S. Forest Service offices and has not been delivered to MMSA, according to forest officials.

“We are still getting review and counsel,” said Jon Regelbrugge, district ranger for the Mammoth area. Progress on the letter, (Mammoth Mountain officials said last month they did not agree “non-compliance” was an accurate description of their permit’s status,) has been slowed by the fact that both he and Inyo National Forest Supervisor Ed Armenta have been gone for the past several weeks, helping other forest’s fight massive wildfires, he said.

Armenta is considered the final decision maker regarding how MMSA officials effect the impending closure of June Mountain Ski Area this winter, and June Mountain is within Regelbrugge’s district.

Several months ago, when MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory announced abruptly that he would not operate June Mountain this winter, the June Lake community put pressure on the forest to push MMSA toward operation.

But MMSA’s argument that operating the ski area was financially impossible until a massive reorganization was implemented held the day and the June Lake community changed its focus to surviving the winter.

Intent on revitalizing the June Lake winter economy by offering alternative outdoor recreation opportunities—as opposed to skiing and snowboarding—the community members behind June’s revitalization effort are beginning to pepper the Inyo with requests for such things as snowplay areas, ice skating options, cross country skiing trails, and dog sled trails.

Typically, such requests take the forest service many months—even years, in some cases—to approve, but Regelbrugge said that given the situation, and given the forest service’s mission to provide recreational options on federal lands, the forest will work hard with community members to find legal—and fast—solutions.

“Depending on exactly what they want to do and where, it’s possible that we can approve some activities quickly,” he said.

The most likely route is through something called a “categorical exclusion” in forest service jargon. Certain activities such as a cross country groomed trail on top of a road covered in snow as opposed to a groomed trail over virgin ground might qualify as a categorical exclusion, allowing the forest to bypass months of environmental reviews.

But “might” is still the critical word, Regelbrugge said.

“For example,” he said, “we have to find the requested activity already listed as a possible categorical exclusion. We have to find it will have little to no environmental impact, and more.”

Another option is to issue a temporary permit for an activity, he said.

He said he and/or other forest service officials will be sitting down with June Lake community members for the next several weeks to hammer out what kinds of activities can be implemented quickly.

“We recognize that tourism is a major part of the local economy and we recognize that the community is in a tough spot,” he said.

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