The flammulated owl may not be familiar to many, but its profile may soon soar as the fate of that species and others has been raised in Boulder County's latest critique of a U.S. Forest Service evaluation of Eldora Mountain Resort's proposed expansion.
And, while the expansion's effects on some wildlife is debated, it appears frustration over the county's overall position is building for Eldora officials.
The commissioners last month submitted a highly critical 13-page letter to the Forest Service, responding to the massive draft environmental impact statement the agency published Feb. 28 on Eldora's expansion plans.
A 45-day window for public comments on the 594-page Forest Service assessment closed April 14. But, because commissioners have been focused on lingering flood issues, they won permission to submit supplemental comments, for which they collected input at an April 17 public hearing.
On Wednesday, the commissioners released a three-page follow-up to their April critique, buttressed by a seven-page appendix. It spent about one paragraph reaffirming Eldora's value to the community, while the balance attacked the Forest Service's assessment of potential expansion impacts as flawed, also repeatedly employing the term "misleading."
The letter will be discussed briefly at the commissioners' meeting today before being sent to the Forest Service. A final version of the environmental impact statement is to be issued by the Forest Service later this year, and its decision on Eldora's planned expansion should come in early 2015.
The county critiques the Forest Service for not addressing the potential fate of 15 species, including the dwarf shrew and the northern pygmy owl. It also labels the evaluation of the impact on seven other species as "inadequate."
'No threatened, endangered and sensitive species will be impacted'
The Forest Service draft impact statement presented three expansion scenarios, labeled Alternatives 1, 2 and 3, the first of those being no expansion at all.
Alternative 2 would see the resort expand north toward Middle Boulder Creek, creating 15 new ski trails across 58 acres of additional snowmaking terrain, and would require a bridge over the creek for maintenance access, linking County Road 130 to the base of a new six-person chairlift. Alternative 3 would focus the expansion in a southerly direction into Gilpin County, featuring 10 new ski runs — several of which would cross the Jenny Creek hiking trail.
Numerous critics of Eldora's plans are lobbying for the resort to make its desired improvements — plans also call for a new 16,000- to 20,000-square-foot guest facility near the top of the Indian Peaks lift, and 560 new parking spaces — within its existing boundaries. Eldora representatives have said that infill alternative would not allow the resort to remain competitive in today's market.
Eldora planning director Jim Spenst said the resort sent the commissioners a letter April 29 responding to a wide range of county concerns. Wednesday's new letter from the commissioners to the Forest Service seemed to have been drafted without even considering the resort's April 29 communication, Spenst said.
In Eldora's April 29 letter to the county, Spenst wrote, "Boulder County has not given adequate consideration of the interests of its local ski resort, its guests nor of the wider interests of its citizens in general. Eldora resort has expended significant resources and time to take into account the interests of all of Boulder County to the maximum extent possible, and believes that Alternative 2 ... is representative of such interests."
And, Spenst stated, "Eldora Resort has taken great effort to ensure that no threatened, endangered and sensitive species will be impacted by implementation of either Alternatives 2 or 3."
He added that during the environmental impact assessment process, Eldora has reduced the number of new trails it is proposing within its proposed amended boundary lines by 50 percent.
Officials have 'no question' about Eldora's value to county
In an emailed comment to the Camera, Spenst said, "We find it amazing that in spite of requests to talk with Eldora throughout this process from our open houses starting in 2010 to the present (environmental impact statement) meetings that no one from the County has participated in them or asked us for information that can answer a vast majority of their questions and concerns."
Barbara Halpin, spokeswoman for the county commissioners, did not rule out a meeting between the board and Eldora representatives, but said that because the resort is in the midst of the environmental impact process with the Forest Service, any meeting "would have to be very specific to these comments on the EIS, and not anything beyond that."
"They all value Eldora; there's no question that we see the merits of having the resort in the county," Halpin said.
Boulder Ranger District spokeswoman Elsha Kirby said the Forest Service would not comment on the county's latest letter until it is received. But she did say that only new comments on issues the county has previously raised will be considered.
"They're free to voice concerns, and we won't shut them out," Kirby said. "However, bringing up new concerns may do nothing for them during the objection period (which follows finalization of the impact statement) because they were submitted after April 14."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Charlie Brennan at 303-473-1327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.