Kearns and Sons RS Aesthetics

Bitterroot Resort proposal gets another initial screening


By Michael Howell

The development of a ski resort area on the flanks of Carlton Ridge near Lolo Peak is back on the table as the U.S. Forest Service recently accepted a new application with a revised plan for initial screening from ski area promoter Tom Maclay. This is Maclay’s third proposal for a ski resort in the area. His first two proposals were rejected primarily due to conflicts with the local Forest Plans and incursion onto a Carlton Research Natural Study Area that prohibits such incursions. The latest proposal was submitted by Special Use Permit for Public Resort Benefits, LLC (SUPPRB), a Montana Limited Liability Company incorporated for the singular purpose of submitting this proposal. Tom Maclay is listed as the Managing Partner.

Maclay has made changes in the resort proposal aimed at overcoming the obstacles that led to previous failures in passing the initial screening process. It will no longer involve a downhill ski trail and lift at the very peak. Instead, it proposes an alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, snow boarding resort. Lifts and gondolas would also serve the summer hiking and biking recreationists.

The previous proposals involved development of a base area on the Maclay Ranch. That property is now owned by Metropolitan Life Agricultural Investments following foreclosure on the property when Maclay defaulted on the mortgage. The latest proposal is planned to be constructed entirely on Forest Service property.

The Base Area site is presently served by FS Road 1311. FS Road 1311 would be accessed from U.S. Highway 93 via McClain Creek road, utilizing a public easement on the Maclay Ranch. From a parking area skiers would be shuttled to the Mountain Base Area using frequently-departing bus shuttle service.

According to the application, a copy of which was released by the Forest Service following a Freedom of Information Act request, the new proposal incorporates minimal use of ridge line building structures, in contrast to previous submissions.

“Several ski trails per lift are proposed, which fit the variety of terrain and range of skier skill categories and are balanced with the uphill lift capacity providing for efficiencies in land area used. Importantly, all skill levels are amply provided for at this early, and naturally reliable, USFS snow site. Proposed ski trail widths would range between 100′-150′ making use of the terrain for skiing character and also creating a visual mosaic that blends into the landscape when possible, consistent with prior USFS ski area planning expectations for this site,” states the application.

The development of the many ski trails, five lifts, lodges and other structures is planned over five phases and will include Snowcat service for skiing in the vicinity of Lantern Ridge in the fifth phase.

Maclay describes the new construction techniques that will be used to minimize impact to the land during construction. A combination day lodge and restaurant is proposed in a natural clearing, near an existing road, at an elevation of 8250 feet. The lodge site sits below and between two high points on Carlton Ridge, allowing it to blend into the skyline. Maclay notes that this is also the area that holds the most reliable amounts of snow for the longest period.

Maclay quotes from the Forest Service regulations that “screening a proposed use will permit review of the proposal before the proponent invests time and expense in providing detailed information to accompany the application or the Forest Service invests time and expense in performing a detailed evaluation of the proposed use, including an analysis of the impacts on the environment.”

The initial screening employs nine criteria:

• Consistent with the laws, regulations, orders, and policies establishing or governing National Forest System lands;

• Consistent with, or can be made consistent with, standards and guidelines in the applicable Forest Plans;

• Will not pose a serious risk to public health or safety;

• Will not create an exclusive or perpetual right of use or occupancy;

• Will not unreasonably conflict or interfere with Administrative uses of the Forest Service or with other authorized uses on or adjacent to National Forest System lands;

• Proponent does not have a delinquent debt owed to the Forest Service under a prior or existing authorization;

• Does not involve gambling or sexually oriented commercial services;

• Does not involve private military or paramilitary training or exercises;

• Does not involve disposal of solid waste or radioactive or other hazardous substances.

If it passes this review it goes through a second level review to determine if it is technically and financially feasible. The agency has sixty days from the time the application is accepted to complete the two-level screening process.

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