TELLURIDE – As the Telluride Ski and Golf Co. inches closer to developing a new master plan for the Telluride Ski Area, an online survey has been posted that asks the question of whether or not the master plan should include a boundary/terrain expansion into upper Bear Creek’s Delta Bowl that would include a new fixed cable chairlift.
A new lift and the Delta Bowl terrain, as described in the survey, would be accessed by a new surface lift running from the top of Revelation Lift to the Gold Hill Summit. This would provide access onto the east face of the Gold Hill Summit into Delta Bowl, which would provide intermediate and advanced terrain.
The survey comes after TSG Asset Holding, LLC purchased the 4.11-acre Dandy Lode parcel last April for $24,700.
According to the survey, a “unique combination of factors would allow for construction of the lift without significant impact.” These factors include a summer service road that is already built to the top terminal location, and an existing mining road to the lower terminal station that would “require a minimum of earthwork during construction.” The survey also states that underground power is also very close at the top of Revelation Lift and that no trees would need to be cut to install the new lift.
The survey, which can be found at tellurideskiresort.com, asks those who participate in the survey to choose between one of three choices: “I support the construction of a Delta Bowl lift and permit boundary expansion, I do not support the construction of a Delta Bowl lift and permit boundary expansion or I don’t know.”
“This is clearly a thumbs-up or thumbs-down type of question on whether you support it or don’t support it,” Telski CEO Dave Riley said Tuesday, adding that the survey Telski conducted last summer had this lift included in it, but this survey has more details about the project. “We thought it would be beneficial to give more details about the project and to get a clear response on it.”
The survey comes just as the snow begins to fly in Telluride with the 2010-2011 season on the horizon. Commercial expansion and to, some extent, even allowing public access into the Bear Creek Basin, is already a contentious issue.
Already, the survey has sparked sharp criticism from Thomas Chapman, who is a partner in the Gold Hill Development Co., which purchased three contiguous mining claims in Bear Creek last March for $246,000. In an email to the U.S. Forest Service Tuesday and several media outlets on Tuesday, Chapman said the proposed lift in the survey avoids his private lands along with others, but what won’t work is skiing through Delta Bowl.
“The [Gold Hill Development Company’s] Little Bessie parcel occupies the center of the Delta Bowl,” Chapman stated. “What won’t work is skiing from anyplace on Gold Hill Ridge down through Lena Basin or through the Delta Bowl and then down through the Modena, Gertrude, or Little Bessie to get back on the chairlift.”
Riley sees it differently.
“Where you see the lift on the picture, it is all on Forest Service land,” Riley said. “You can ski laps on that lift without crossing that private land. Yes, there are mining claims in that area, but it is possible to ski that area without crossing over private land.”
Chapman has a reputation for controversial real-estate transactions in which he buys private in-holdings surrounded by or near adjacent public lands and then threatens to develop them in order to force high-priced sales or land trades with the federal government; Chapman demurs, however, that he is first an advocate for private property rights. In the case of Bear Creek and the Forest Service’s decision to keep public access gates open to back country skiers, Chapman is most concerned is about liability – who is liable if someone dies in an avalanche on a private parcel of land that was accessed through a Forest Serve access gate?
“The landowners have every right to sit here and complain about this,” Chapman said in an interview on Tuesday. “The town says it’s not liable. The county says it’s not liable. It’s a Forest Service problem. You think anyone can sue the Forest Service? No. So who do you think get sued here? First it will be the landowner anywhere near the accidental death site. So will Telski. They are kidding themselves if they don’t believe they will be held liable.”
Chapman said the Gold Hill Development Co. plans to reopen the various mines in its 100-plus acres of land in the area, as well as open an eco-tourism facility on the Modena Parcel. With that, he said, the company plans to open the historic Gold Hill Road from Telluride, beginning at the intersection of South Oak and San Juan Avenue all the way to the Little Bessie mine dump.
Chapman said the company has a superior right to use the Gold Hill Road that crosses through various parts of the Telluride Ski Area. If Telski will agree to honor the Gold Hill Development’s senior rights to the use of Gold Hill Road without going through a federal court process, Chapman said the company will sit down with Telski to mitigate the use of that road.
“We have the right to go up there and plow it off,” Chapman said. “Our right to maintain that road will be 24-seven, 365 days a year. If they agree that we have a superior right to cross through their properties on that road, then will sit down to mitigate the results of using that road. There are things, like only using a track machine in the winter, that could be done to mitigate the effects of the use of that road.”
“Our intention is to be a good neighbor with the ski area and the Town of Telluride and we are simply asking people to consider what they are doing here with this survey,” Chapman said.
It is not clear whether Chapman could, in fact, plow the road, since San Miguel County’s High Country zoning prohibits both improvements to existing roads and plowing.
County Planner Mike Rozycki on Wednesday said he is uncertain on the status of Gold Hill Road at this time but that it was not identified by the Road and Bridge Superintendent or designated by the San Miguel Board of County Commissioners as a public High Country Road at the time the High Country Zone District was implemented.
The county’s Land Use Code policies and the provisions in the High Country Zone state that it is the intent of the zone to prohibit both public or private improvements on existing public roads within the district as well as prohibit the construction of new roads within the district. Existing private roads within the High Country Alpine Zone are considered to be private existing driveways.
“I would need to have more information or do more research concerning the status of Gold Hill Road and then review that information against the provisions of the HCA, and the identified Ecological Sensitive Areas for Watershed Protection which prohibit snow plowing and maintenance from Nov. 1 through May 1,” Rozycki stated in an email to The Watch.
Because of any pending legal actions, Riley did not want to comment on the right to use the Gold Hill Road.
Chapman wants to make it clear that he understands what Riley and the ski area are trying to keep Telluride a successful resort town.
“Without the ski area, Telluride is pretty much the same as Lake City. It doesn’t have a strong economy,” he said. “Anyone who talks to me is always going to get the same story though. It’s always a bad idea to push private landowners aside as if they do not exist.”
This story has was updated at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 27, to reflect additional reporting related to the possible influence of San Miguel County zoning on the issues raised.