Friends of Mount Hood
November 2004 Newsletter
Message from Kate McCarthy, founder of Friends of Mount Hood and Chairperson Emerita
The battle to protect Mt. Hood continues.
The Cooper Spur Wild and Free Coalition is working to expand protection for the Cloud Cap Inn and Tilly Jane Historic District and the Tilly Jane Trail.
The Hood River Valley Residents’ Committee recently won on a decision at the Court of Appeals on their lawsuit challenging the county’s trading of almost a square mile of county land in our domestic drinking watershed to resort developer, Mt. Hood Meadows.
At the county court level, Mt. Hood Meadows had moved for dismissal on the grounds the Residents Committee didn’t have standing. The county court judge agreed with Mt. Hood Meadows. This was reversed by the Court of Appeals and the case can now go forward on its merits.
The Goal 8 destination resort mapping hearings that we encouraged all of you to attend in 2003 were a sensational success for our Coalition. An overwhelming majority who testified opposed the resort. Also, it turns out, the mapping was full of errors and the process is now on hold.
At this point Dave Riley, General Manager of Mt. Hood Meadows, is looking at land in Government Camp that is zoned for housing. We’re not sure of the final outcome, but it makes sense as the Government Camp area has been long considered the resort community location on the mountain, and the land is already zoned for housing.
In addition, Mt. Hood has been in the limelight in other ways. We are fortunate for the attention now being given to the need for protection of this overstressed and much loved Oregon icon by Representative Earl Blumenauer and Representative Greg Walden at Mt. Hood Summit I and Summit II, both held at Timberline Lodge.
Also the legislation introduced in Congress by Senator Ron Wyden proposing the “Lewis and Clark Mt. Hood Wilderness Expansion” is exciting and hopeful.
Friends of Mount Hood has been heavily involved testifying and supporting all of these efforts. It is important that we stay active in supporting these positive approaches.
Turning to the Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Area, this last year has been a particularly disappointing and difficult time with a number of concerns and problems.
As we mentioned in our December 2003 Newsletter, we were informed by a citizen last fall that owners of 60 four-wheel drive Land Rovers were allowed to practice their driving skills on the fragile soils at Mt. Hood Meadows. This activity was approved by the Permit Administrator of the Forest Service in Parkdale, and supported by the District Forest Ranger. FOMH, following up on this activity, was told by the District Ranger that the new 1997 Master Plan approved summer use. We reminded the Forest Service that policy 2343.11 states, “Encourage summer use of ski area facilities where that use is compatible with or enhances natural resources-based recreational opportunities.” We felt 60 Land Rovers in the fragile area was in strong conflict with nearby wilderness use and hiking use of the historic and time-honored Timberline Trail and other nearby trails. (not to mention wild life disruption and harassment.) Also, our lawyer, Chris Winter, researched the issue further and found that the Master Plan does not allow this use and specifically, motorized use was not allowed except for administrative purposes. We maintain this should not happen again.
super halfpipe The new super-pipe is a huge super eyesore, visible from the main base parking lot, and from at least two locations on the Timberline Trail. This monstrosity was not included in the Master Plan and was done on a Categorical Exclusion (CE) which does not require documentation of impacts in an Environmental Analysis (EA). The CE process does not provide for public participation, and an appeal is not allowed.
Again, attorney Chris Winter had represented our group and had requested of the Forest Service that a CE not be used. FOMH had concerns about erosion problems. FOMH also had serious concerns about digging this large permanent structure into the mountain. Previously it had been built up out of the snow, but MHM explained that this takes longer, even into January. We feel strongly that an EA process and analysis should have been undertaken with public participation and consideration of impacts and alternatives. Forest Service policy specifically states that a CE is not to be used if erodible or steep slopes are involved. FOMH also had concerns about impacts on the natural drainage patterns affecting nearby wetlands.
Construction began immediately despite our expressed concerns and our requests for a public process. The Forest Service gave us no time to go to court. As we voiced our concern to the District Ranger, she explained that “efficiency of operations” was motivation for a CE. Yes, destruction is more efficient and quicker without a public process, but more efficient destruction is not the goal of the National Environmental Policy Act!
We have discovered that Mt. Hood Meadows has been using 300 lbs. of salt a day on the super-pipe when the temperature is warm. Actually the total of salt used at Meadows is estimated by the Forest Service to be 3 – 7 tons a year. If the Forest Service had required a public process in approving the super-pipe, perhaps the issue of salting would have been brought to light. We understand that the District Ranger was surprised when she learned that salt was used to harden the snow for the super-pipe.
Daniel LeRoux, legal intern, sent the Forest Service a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to learn the extent of salting at Mt. Hood Meadows as we were unable to get a clear picture of the situation.
The FOIA requested “All documents regarding the source and type of salt used on ski runs, race courses, and any other areas at Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Area.”
The Forest Service answered: “The Forest maintains no records of salting at MHM Ski Area.”
The answers to our FOIA request were not satisfactory, so Mr. LeRoux submitted an appeal to the FOIA request. We haven’t had a reply yet. FOMH will continue to be pro-active regarding the salting issue.
Filling the swale on Buttercup beginners’ ski run.
Filling the swale, Dave Riley explained, would make the run a little easier for beginners. The project was also done on a CE without clear explanation and disclosure of impacts. It is turning out to be a disaster and a much bigger project than we had understood.
Observations suggest that motivation for filling the swale was more for finding a cheap way to get rid of the dirt from removal of the “island” in the main parking lot and a cheap way to get rock for the parking lot stormwater improvement project. This might be acceptable if the impacts to the flowered meadow disposal site were not too extensive. It was not explained and disclosed that the whole flowered meadow slope would be torn up and shuffled around with many truckloads of dirt going nowhere near the swale.
This is another example where full disclosure and a public process was sidestepped for advantage to the developer and where the mountain lost.
Construction of Lift 21 (now Vista Express).
We have been concerned about the impacts of this lift going high on the mountain for some time and have appealed it twice. The Forest Service at first attempted to get away with doing it on a CE but we caught them at it. The scoping document, a notice of the project with a brief description given out for public comment, let slip “more information will be available in the construction plan.”, and later that public comment was invited not on IF the lift would be built, but on HOW to get the job done.
This is a large project reaching high on the mountain and involving much construction and bringing thousands of additional skiers to this fragile ecosystem with the potential for great impacts. We wrote a stern letter to the District Ranger and an EA was done. The result was the usual whitewash: “A finding of no significant impact” and a decision to build the lift. We appealed. Among many arguments we submitted many photos showing extensive damage to high altitude trees — both from chain saws and grooming equipment. Our appeal was denied. It was stated that the photos were taken at a lower elevation in the sub-alpine area. This is not true, and this is documented.
So this summer they were building Lift 21. To add insult to injury, the EA disclosed that two lift towers would be built in the riparian zones. On checking construction, we have documented six towers in riparian zones.
The Forest Service argues that it makes essentially no difference as “no riparian vegetation was removed for the towers, in fact, none existed prior to the project.” Not true in both cases as we have photos of lush vegetation existing along the stream and later considerable damage occurred. There is also erosion of confidence. How could they have missed four towers out of six?
And to add insult to injury, visitors to Timberline Lodge complain that the top terminal and three other towers are visible from the lodge, a national historic site. The Forest Service admits they didn’t consider the impact to this significant viewpoint.
So we have new damage piled on old damage and prospects for more damage in the Master Plan such as a 1000-person capacity restaurant next to the Timberline Trail, and much more.
We are angry and more determined than ever to bring the Forest Service to its senses in their responsibility to protect this important part of Mt. Hood from further damage.
In the 1960’s when this very special area was removed from the wilderness designation, and Mt. Hood Meadows was awarded the bid for the construction of the ski area, the Forest Service promises made clear to the public that it was not to become a degraded overused amusement park. Special restrictions were written into the permit to protect the beauty and important resource values. These protections have not been honored.
Our work continues on. Every day is a new challenge in protecting the mountain.
Our effectiveness for the future is dependent on the generous financial contributions of our supporters. We are deeply appreciative of the financial support we have received in previous years.
Please help us continue this important fight to protect the important resources of this very special area on Mt. Hood by your generous support..
Kate McCarthy, P.O. Box 293, Mt. Hood, Oregon 97041