MMSA now says land trade is on backburner, residents push back
Some June Lake residents are still frustrated over June Mountain Ski Area’s uncertain future and they were not assuaged this past week when they discovered that a proposed land trade had been assigned to a Congressional committee for review—without their knowing.
“We have been asking to meet with our congressman for several months now regarding our opposition to this very matter,” said Michael Bogash, a member of the Committee for a Viable June Lake.
“He obviously has met with MMSA (Mammoth Mountain Ski Area), yet has had no time for us, his constituents that have very compelling reasons to oppose such a land exchange of our federal lands. We are very disappointed if this is true.
“We are again reminded that our officials are swayed more by money and politics than simple right, wrong, and fairness. What a shame that we had no opportunity to speak with our elected official before he acted.”
The bill, HR 1241, was put before a congressional committee on March 18 by Mono County’s newly elected Representative, Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley), and co-sponsored by the county’s former Representative, Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita).
The bill asks Congress to allow a land trade between MMSA and the Inyo National Forest, which holds a parcel of land that the ski area wants to develop near Main Lodge. It is similar to a bill that McKeon put before Congress last year, which passed the House of Representatives (but not the Senate) and then died.
The land trade issue has become a point of contention in June Lake, with some residents seeing it as leverage they can use to get MMSA to stabilize and invest in June Mountain Ski Area, in exchange for political support for the land trade.
In early March, Gregory asked the Mono County Board of Supervisors to write a letter of support for the land trade, but later withdrew the request.
Bogash and other committee members said they were especially disappointed because only this past week, they heard from their county supervisor, Tim Alpers, that MMSA was going to put the land trade issue on the back burner and focus more on communicating with June Lake residents about June Mountain Ski Area’s future.
Jim Smith, the ski area’s vice president of real estate, said Thursday that MMSA was committed to a sustained and open discussion with June Lake residents and the county supervisors. He said MMSA would have representatives at two meetings regarding June Mountain Ski Area—one on April 2 in June Lake and another on April 9 before the board of supervisors in Bridgeport.
He said the fact that the bill had been introduced recently was a coincidence.
“We haven’t talked to Cook about this bill since January,” Smith said. “The land trade is not our focus right now, but that doesn’t mean we are not moving forward on it.”
Bills have a two-year time frame within which they must be passed, and that is why MMSA began the process in January, as soon as it could.
“This is not an end-run around the community,” he said. “That is not the case. The case is we are going to go before the community and listen and take input on where June Mountain should go. We are also going to talk about the results of the peer resort tour (at the April 2 meeting) and get feedback from the community on that.”
He said Gregory would be present at the April 9 meeting in Bridgeport before the supervisors.
Bogash and other community members said they have reason to be frustrated and distrustful. The group had originally intended to speak before the board of supervisors on April 2 about their concerns over the land trade.
Now, they are scheduled to go on the agenda on April 16—and they have no intention of dropping the land trade issue.
“Our agenda item is now scheduled for April 16 and is about asking the supervisors to write a letter of non-approval for the land exchange until the issues at June Mountain are addressed in full and in writing,” said Alice Suszynski, a June Lake resident and business owner.
“We are also asking that they rescind their prior letter of approval written in 2011.”
Alpers said the discussion on April 2 was postponed for “a good reason.”
“I heard from Gregory last week that he wanted to pull his request for a letter of support (from the county supervisors for the land trade) completely at this time, and instead go before the board and the public and talk about June Mountain’s future,” Alpers said.
“That’s been one of the things we have been trying to get him to do for months now,” he said. “It seemed like a reasonable thing to agree to.”
Alpers said he just learned about the bill going to a committee and didn’t have the time to find out why the bill was in process before there had been any contact with local residents.
“I can understand why the citizens are frustrated,” he said. “They have been trying for weeks now to get an appointment with Cook to tell him what their concerns are, and then they find out that things are moving without them.”
Cook did not return calls before press time.