Working Paper 94-53 February 1994
By Hannah Gosnell Schneider
This paper was written in conjunction with the Fall 1993 Natural Resources and Environmental Policy Seminar of the University of Colorado Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate Program in Environmental Policy. All ideas presented are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Consortium or the University. For more information, contact the Conflict Resolution Consortium, Campus Box 327, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0327. Phone: (303) 492-1635, e-mail: email@example.com.
© 1994. Hannah G. Schneider. Do not reprint without permission.
This case study focuses on a piece of land in northwest Colorado that borders Routt National Forest, seven miles southeast of Steamboat Springs. The Yampa River runs through the area, and Mt. Baldy provides the central high point. The area, known as Pleasant Valley, consisted primarily of ranches until developers envisioned a four season resort and ski area around a man-made lake which would be created by damming the Yampa River. Ever since, the area has been a focal point for controversy between developers, ranchers, local citizenry, environmentalists, and federal, state, and local agencies.
The envisioned resort, which would become known as Lake Catamount, was first proposed in 1968 when Marv Crawford and Bob Day, local developers, met with the committee formed to attract the 1976 Winter Olympics to Colorado. The committee needed a ski area with a 3,000 foot continuous vertical drop, and Aspen was the only existing area that could satisfy that need. Preferring a site that had plenty of room nearby to build the huge facilities needed for the Olympics, the committee identified two favored undeveloped sites - Beaver Creek and Catamount. The committee eventually chose Beaver Creek, but Colorado voters nixed the idea of Olympics in Colorado anyway.(1)
Undaunted, Crawford and Day pursued their idea and expanded their partnership to form Pleasant Valley Investment Company (PVIC), with the First National Bank of Denver (now First Interstate) as a financier. Crawford, Day, and a Denverite named Bob Siegrist were the general investors in PVIC alongside three limited partners from Denver. The plan was to purchase five surrounding ranches, get the zoning and Planned Unit Development (PUD) approved by the county, build a dam, get a Forest Service Special Use Permit to build a ski area on the adjacent public land, then sell the package to a major corporation.(2) Easier said than done.
Twenty five years later, all that exists on the site is the man-made lake, and that was only completed because First Interstate was willing to shell out the money necessary to finish PVIC's half-completed damming project. The original developers ran out of money long before their dream became a reality,(3) and the most recent developers have yet to break ground, despite having all the necessary permits.(4) This paper, then, is the story of what went wrong for PVIC, what lessons were learned from their mishaps, and what happened to the plans for a major resort on this site. To a large extent, it is the story of the trials and tribulations of Lake Catamount Joint Venture, the most recent developers to try their hand at realizing the Lake Catamount vision.
In this paper, I will outline the history of the Lake Catamount project, identifying the principal issues; key stakeholders and their interests; officials with decision making authority, and the legal, political and administrative setting. I will consider the driving forces contributing to today's situation, and finally, I will offer an analysis of the case as a whole in terms of positive and negative factors contributing to (or detracting from) a generally acceptable compromise. In some people's minds, the case is not yet resolved, and that will be discussed as well.
In this chapter of the history of Lake Catamount, the principal issues involve the financial limitations of the developers; the construction of the dam; the complexity of the environmental permitting process, and the will of the local citizenry to keep tabs on how their county develops. Key stakeholders include Pleasant Valley Investment Company (the developers), First Interstate Bank (the financiers), and the citizens of Routt County.
The officials with decision making authority relevant to this aspect of the case determine the legal setting and include: the Routt County Board of Commissioners, whose duty it is to oversee development in a responsible manner, in part by deciding whether or not to grant PUD (Planned Unit Development) status to a piece of land; the Colorado Land Use Commission, who has authority over the County in planning matters, and who (under House Bill 1041 - the question of legitimate state interest) can: take the County to court to force it to reconsider its decision to permit a given project; leave the process in the County's hands; invoke the 407 process as a formal request to the County Commissioners that this is a State matter, and/or issue a TEP (Temporary Emergency Procedure) to halt action on a development;(5) the Environmental Protection Agency, who has authority over water quality issues; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Water Quality Control Division who issue (or withhold) permits for dam construction, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife, which can require a conservation easement addressing its concerns.(6)
The political setting is determined by a pro-development County Planning Commission, and a small (but vocal) anti-growth minority among the Routt County citizenry.
These factors all came together in the late 1970s to foil the attempts of Pleasant Valley Investment Company to realize their vision of a Lake Catamount Resort. This is how it happened:
Securing the Right to Develop
By 1972, PVIC had acquired all of the private ranch land necessary for the resort itself (which would be situated at the base of a ski area on Forest Service land) at a cost of $3.5 million.(7) This would prove to be one of the easiest and least costly aspects of the plan. The zoning and PUD approval for the private land would be the next big step. With this in mind, Crawford, Day, and Siegrist hired Benedict Associates of Aspen to help them with a Master Plan they could present to the Routt County Regional Planning Commission for consideration.
The Master Plan they came up with described a 3,200 acre development surrounding a 500 acre lake behind a 60 foot high, 400 foot long dam.(8) According to Crawford, the lake would be "the key factor" in the development. Also included in the Plan were 3,600 dwelling units, a marina, an 18 hole golf course, tennis, an equestrian center, and a ski area which could accommodate 10,000 skiers.(9) In order to garner support from the locals, the Plan was touted as "a Colorado project being done by Colorado people."(10)
Nonetheless, when presented with the Plan in June of 1973, the Planning Commission unanimously disapproved the proposal. Their concerns centered around the idea of a high density development next to a major waterway; the addition of another sewage treatment plant next to the Yampa River, and lack of proof of present need for such a development.(11)
In September of the same year, PVIC took their plan to the County Board of Commissioners, which had authority over the Planning Commission to determine what kind of development occurred on private land in Routt County. The initial concept was approved by the more pro-development Commission,(12) much to the chagrin of the Planners and the more than 125 citizens who voiced opposition to the decision at a 1-1/2 hour protest held in the District Courtroom the following month. The protest included testimony from 20 residents of Routt County and brought a Commission promise to reconsider the approval of the sketch plan.(13)
In 1974 the County Commissioners voted 2-1 to allow PVIC to go ahead with their plans after a lengthy reconsideration involving eleven state agencies signing off on the proposal. The agencies studied everything from downstream water temperatures to the humpback chub, and the developers footed the bill, which was about $500,000.(14) The next step was to build the dam.
In July of 1976, dam building began. "It turned out to be a horrendous undertaking," recalled Bob Day in a 1989 Steamboat Pilot interview. "What was to be an 18 month project turned into a three year project."(15) Although PVIC thought it had the necessary permits from the County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Colorado Water Quality Division of the Department of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stopped construction at three different times because of environmental concerns and problems with proper permitting. Construction costs ballooned from a projected $2 million to a final $5 million.(16)
Concerned about the stop-and-go commotion at the south end of the Valley during the summer of 1976, local citizens requested that the State Land Use Commission (LUC) get involved. The reasoning behind this request included concerns about environmental and land use planning issues, and the financial dependability of the developers. The LUC agreed to look into the matter, and on September 10, 1976, held a hearing in Steamboat Springs.(17)
After hearing from the citizenry, the LUC decided to issue a TEP and halt all action for a month until a study could be initiated which would involve 15 state agencies and 4 federal agencies. The study would examine potential impacts of the proposed development; actions the various agencies might take relevant to a LUC decision regarding the permissibility of continuing the development, and specific issues the LUC should consider. The LUC also requested financial data from the developers and ordered the county to delay final decision on the development until the study was complete.(18)
In addition to outlining numerous environmental impacts not previously considered, the study revealed important information about the developers' financial situation. A consulting firm from Denver discovered that Catamount's financial feasibility data included only preliminary water and sewer costs. Project costs, bond issue amounts, and costs per equivalent residential unit were substantially higher than originally anticipated.(19)
This, in conjunction with PVIC's inability to attain the proper environmental permits to finish the dam, proved to be the downfall of the development company. The Colorado Division of Wildlife and the Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Health, in particular, made it clear that they would not issue the additional needed permits until a myriad of wildlife and water issues had been addressed.(20) The LUC's review ended in opposition and recommendations for project abandonment.(21)
The developers surrendered the deed to First Interstate in lieu of foreclosure, which meant the bank now had control of the project. Covering for the bankrupt developers, First Interstate made the necessary further investments to finish the dam to the agencies' specifications and assure the future of Lake Catamount. The dam was completed and the lake filled with water in the summer of 1978.(22)
Aside from the obvious need for more money, there were a few other negative factors contributing to PVIC's failure to realize their Lake Catamount vision. One, in particular, was the underestimation of the locals' commitment to get involved in procedural matters relating to development, and their desire to maintain the quality of life in their community. Another was a lack of consideration for how stringent and costly environmental regulations could be. These factors would continue to be issues in future attempts to develop the area.
The main issues which determined how the bank and the County would proceed with the project in the future, then, centered around the financial reliability of potential future investors, and the way the project would be marketed.
The County had been burned before by developers who ran out of money after breaking ground, leaving the County with hundreds of thousands of dollars in uncollected taxes.(23) Citizens and administrators were determined not to let it happen again. This attitude would result in a more tentative approach to the permitting process, one which stressed the importance of developing in phases, only as the developer's finances allowed, and as consumer demand dictated a need for more facilities. The bank favored a public-private partnership in making the development succeed,(24) and actively began looking for new developers, but not just any developers....
In December of 1980, Routt County adopted a Master Plan, which contained a specific policy for "Growth Centers." The land use policy would be to deny future projects like Catamount, however, the policy did protect vested interests. It listed Catamount as a potential future growth center, but emphasized the importance of careful planning which prioritized the welfare of the community and the environment over profits.(25) Therefore, First Interstate was committed to finding a "community" developer as opposed to a "land" developer.(26) Being pragmatic businessmen, the bankers were aware that a project in Routt County would not get off the ground without the support of the locals.
And so, with a new set of eager developers, we begin the next chapter in the Lake Catamount saga.... Principle issues in this section include: the challenge of obtaining a Special Use Permit from Routt National Forest to build a ski area on public lands next to the planned resort; the insistence on the part of the public of being included in the planning process; planning an acceptable mitigation package to alleviate impacts to wetlands, wildlife, water quality, air quality, and transportation in the valley; proximity of the development site to the proposed Service Creek Wilderness Area; effects of the development on Pleasant Valley ranchers Bob and Elaine Gay; the developers' attempts to convince the public that the resort will be necessary and economically beneficial in the future, and public perceptions regarding effects the development may have on quality of life in Routt County.
Key stakeholders include Lake Catamount Joint Venture, Bob and Elaine Gay, Citizens for Responsible Growth, Northwest Rivers Alliance, Colorado Environmental Coalition, the Sierra Club, and Routt County locals. Officials with relevant decision making authority include Jerry Schmidt, Routt National Forest Supervisor (who decides whether to issue a Special Use Permit); Elizabeth Estill, Regional Forester, NFS (who reviews the administrative appeals); the Routt County Commissioners (who keep tabs on the developers' plans for building on the private land through the PUD process), and a myriad of government agencies, including the EPA, Army Corps, Division of Wildlife, etc....
The legal setting is shaped primarily by NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act), which mandates the necessity of an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) before granting approval for any significant change in use to public lands. The Lead Agency (in this case the Forest Service) must see to it that all impacts to the land in question are studied. A "Purpose and Need for Action" must be established, as must "Alternatives, Including the Proposed Action," and "Environmental Consequences." Recommended mitigation must also be addressed. The EIS has two stages: the Draft (DEIS), to which the public has 90 days to respond, and the Final EIS (FEIS), which can be appealed if it is deemed unacceptable to anyone.(27)
Other Federal Acts that shape the legal setting include the Clean Air Act, which requires that an evaluation of air quality be made prior to economic growth, and the Clean Water Act, which includes the 404 permit, to be issued (or not) by the Army Corps of Engineers in situations involving destruction of wetlands.(28)
The political setting in the 1980s in Routt County is characterized by more local concern about unchecked growth than existed in the 1970s, especially as it relates to air quality, taxes, and quality of life in general; and an increasingly vocal environmental contingent keeping close tabs on the Forest Service's every move.
The administrative setting is dictated by the 1983 Routt National Forest Management Plan, which identifies the Catamount site as suitable for winter recreation development.(29) Throughout the process, it is clear to most people that the Forest Supervisor will grant the Special Use Permit for the ski area - it's just a matter of how many mitigation hoops the developers will be forced to jump through.
Lake Catamount Joint Venture began its quest to develop the abandoned project in Pleasant Valley in the spring of 1981, when Martin Hart, chairman of the Steamboat Ski Area, acquired an option on the area from First Interstate. He soon added partners and became Mitchell Catamount and Mount Company-83, or Lake Catamount Joint Venture (LCJV). Hart represented Mount Company-83, a Colorado limited partnership. Mitchell Catamount, Inc. was a subsidiary of Mitchell Energy & Development Corp. of Houston, which through its subsidiaries was involved in numerous real estate developments known for their emphasis on "community."(30)
LCJV proposed to build a planned resort on the 403 acre Lake Catamount property in Pleasant Valley, which was still owned by First Interstate Bank of Denver. The bank agreed to enter into an agreement to sell to the Joint Venture group, although the company had to renew its option on the land several times before it closed on the deal in December of 1988. LCJV eventually paid $4.75 million for the property including the lake and dam.(31)
LCJV's plan was for the development to be a "sister city" to Steamboat Springs. The development would have a population twice the size of Steamboat, and would eventually be Colorado's 8th largest ski area. The developers had in mind a four season resort like Aspen or Keystone, a vision that was slightly more ambitious than the first proposal by PVIC. LCJV's Master Plan included a 3,266 acre resort with three distinct villages, each with its own personality; 3,756 dwelling units; 1,000 hotel rooms; two lodges; a 12,000 square foot conference center; two major commercial areas; a 27 hole golf course; a marina, and a world class, 6,600 acre ski area with 2,800 acres of skiable terrain. The Plan would be executed in five phases.(32)
The way LCJV marketed its plan to locals was to emphasize the urgent need to develop more amenities so as to be able to compete with the bigger resorts in Colorado.(33) "The proximity of the two ski areas [Steamboat and Catamount] is like a shopping mall made stronger by the presence of both a Sears and a Montgomery Ward," said Dick Browne, principal planner for the development.(34)
The other selling point centered around the economic benefits that would be reaped from such development. The developers predicted that thousands of jobs and millions of dollars would be generated by the resort. By the late 1990s, there would be 610,000 annual visitors, and, by 2006, 1.5 million visitors would be spending about 95 million dollars each year in Routt County. If the County hesitated, the economy would stagnate as tourists started going to other parts of Colorado.(35) "Without Catamount," warned Browne, "the end of this area's growth is foreseeable in a very short time."(36)
In August of 1985, the Routt County Planning Commission studied the new concept for the development and approved the sketch plan and zone change from agriculture/Forestry to a Planned Unit Development (PUD) on the condition that it would be done in phases, so as to prevent the developers from getting in over their heads, financially.(37)
Later that year, the County Commissioners also approved LCJV's plan, but not without reservations. Concerns that needed to be dealt with included: the intersection of Oak Creek Road and County Road 18; frazil ice at the inlet of the lake, and possible lake level fluctuations.(38) These issues would continue to plague the developers over the next several years, and in fact, the only litigation to be brought against the project was in response to the build up of frazil ice, caused by the construction of the man-made lake.
Frazil ice accumulated at the inlet to the lake, and, acting as a small diversion dam, it caused perpetual flooding of the Gay property adjacent to the development site every winter. Claiming that the flooding had damaged their property and kept them from accessing their cattle, the Gays sued LCJV and First Interstate Bank in May of 1986. The developers found a solution to the problem, but not after spending more than $60,000.(39)
Nonetheless, LCJV now had all the approval they needed to be able to begin developing the private land surrounding Lake Catamount. The Commission's OK meant that LCJV could start on residential building sites, commercial areas, a limited ski area, golf courses, and lake amenities. The developers decided to wait, however, until everything was in order before breaking ground.(40) The next step, obtaining permission from the Forest Service to build a ski area on public land, would prove to be the lengthiest and most difficult part of the process.
Obtaining the Special Use Permit
Despite the fact that in 1983 the Routt National Forest included the Catamount site in its Forest Plan as "appropriate for winter sports development",(41) LCJV was still required to go through the formal permitting process dictated by the State of Colorado and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in order to get a Special Use Permit to build a ski area.
While NEPA required Routt National Forest to prepare an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) to assess physical, environmental, and social impacts resulting from the proposed development (as described earlier), a state mandate required that a Joint Review Process (JRP) be conducted before the EIS process could begin.
The JRP is required every time a ski area is proposed in Colorado, and is meant to help agencies involved in the permitting process prepare the Draft EIS (DEIS).(42) In this case, it was to involve twenty government officials from city, county, state, and federal agencies, including representatives from the EPA, the U.S. Department of Fisheries, Colorado Division of Wildlife, the State Highway Department, Routt County, and Steamboat Springs, among others, under the leadership of the Hahn's Peak Ranger District of the Routt National Forest. Each agency was required to analyze potential impacts and suggest mitigation measures, all of which would be included in the DEIS.(43)
Eager to get started on the lengthy process, LCJV went to the Forest Service in January of 1986 to file for a permit,(44) and in May, the Joint Review Process Committee had their first meeting. The Committee agreed to meet every month until the release of the Draft EIS. All agencies were required to sign a Memorandum of Understanding that obligated them to participate in the planning.(45)
The proposal that these agencies were to consider involved the use of 6,600 acres of public land by LCJV for a proposed 7,020 acre ski area. Sixteen lifts, which would be constructed in a multi-phase development, would take a maximum of 12,000 skiers from the 6,900 foot base to the 9,900 foot summit. Support facilities would be on private land at the base of the mountain. Project completion would be planned between 15 and 20 years after opening, but if the ski area was permitted, it would only be for a 30 year period, after which the developers would need to apply for a permit renewal.(46)
During the first JRP meeting, a Steamboat citizen complained about the JRP's failure to include the public. When a Colorado Division of Natural Resources representative agreed that the public should be involved, the Forest Service agreed to change the format of the meetings. In addition, the Forest Service agreed to hold a series of meetings around the state during the summer of 1986 to address public concerns.(47) The influence of the public in procedural issues would prove to be a recurring theme.
After all of the public hearings, the Forest Service hired a consultant to make a field study of the area and incorporate public concerns into a Draft EIS. The consultant was to be hired by Routt National Forest, but paid by the developers. After the study was completed, plans would be presented to generate further public comment.(48)
By the spring of 1987, six million dollars had been spent on project improvements, including the dam, lake, and County Road 18.(49) The 700 page Draft EIS, released by USFS on March 8, 1989, cost LCJV an additional $1.3 million.(50) The DEIS considered three alternatives: 1) no development on USFS land or at the base; 2) development on private land but not on USFS land, and 3) development on 3,266 acres of private land and 6,600 acres of National Forest land. Jerry Schmidt, Routt National Forest Supervisor, announced his preference for alternative #3 with the release of the DEIS, but a formal decision would not be made until a three month review process was completed, at which time a Final EIS would be released.(51)
Environmentalists voiced opposition to Schmidt's preference, and expressed outrage at his proposal for substituting the traditional review process, which involved public hearings, with a new process that would have a series of "open houses," where individuals could speak to agency representatives one-on-one. In this scenario, comments would not be recorded unless the individual submitted them in written form.(52) "I'm going to bring down the heavy arm of the Sierra Club on this one," Marty Sorenson of the Rocky Mountain Regional Chapter threatened.(53) Darrell Knufke, Regional Director of The Wilderness Society concurred: "I think it's an outrage.... I guess they figure they don't have to defend themselves against public input if they don't have to hear it."(54) In response to the public outcry, Routt National Forest changed its proposal and announced that it would have public hearings in addition to the open houses throughout the spring of 1989.(55)
In addition to meetings scheduled by the Forest Service, two local environmental groups, Citizens for Quality Growth and Northwest Rivers Alliance, held meetings to discuss the DEIS during the same time period.(56) Two major criticisms expressed by environmentalists were: the proposed ski area's proximity to and development of 145 acres of the 76,000 acre Service Creek Wilderness Study Area to the east and south of the proposed ski area,(57) and the impact the development would have on Green Creek, Bob and Elaine Gay's sole source of drinking and irrigation water, the rights to which dated back to 1892.(58) The fact that there was no mention of mitigation of impacts to Green Creek in the DEIS angered locals (especially the Gays).
Regarding impacts to the proposed Wilderness Area, Dave Hackett, Routt Forest Planner commented, "It won't even be a mote of dust in God's eye."(59) Of a different opinion was Marty Sorenson, of the Sierra Club: "This issue in and of itself is a declaration of war.... It would be an environmental Pearl Harbor...." Sorenson described the area as "one of the top proposed wilderness areas in the state of Colorado."(60)
At the last scheduled NFS public hearing in Steamboat on May 30, over 200 people attended and requested more time for comments. Jerry Schmidt appeased the crowd by extending the comment period deadline from June 8 to July 17.(61) The power of public criticism and protest, especially in the arena of procedural issues unrelated to the key substantive issues, was becoming a major force to be contended with.
On the other hand, plans for development didn't seem to be slowing down. At meetings between the developers and government agencies, plans were already being made as to what mitigation could be proposed to counteract the impacts that Alternative #3 would involve, despite the fact that a formal decision had not yet been issued. On June 5, 1990, LCJV met with the Forest Service, Army Corps, EPA, US. Fish and Wildlife Service, CO Division of Wildlife, and Forest Service consultants. Agency representatives indicated a preference for developers to buy land separate from Catamount to conduct "off-site" wetlands mitigation, since they would be destroying 232 acres, or 6% of the wetlands in the area. Property on Brinker Creek was identified as an ideal site for mitigation, primarily because the Great Blue Heron was more likely to nest there than at a site on the resort property. Developers expressed a preference for lower cost "on-site" mitigation, but the agencies indicated that they would be less likely to issue a permit for development if the mitigation was on-site. The developers agreed to design a mitigation plan and submit it to the Army Corps for approval.(62)
Final EIS Released, Special Use Permit Granted, Appeal Denied
After more than four years of research involving over 75 different agencies, multiple public hearings, and digestion of over 1,800 letters and 3,400 different comments, an 800 page Final EIS was released by Jerry Schmidt on November 19, 1990 with a verbal decision to issue a permit for the ski area.(63) "I have considered the environmental consequences to National Forest lands and have concluded that the benefits of the action... outweigh the relatively minor unavoidable impacts remaining after the required mitigation is implemented," said Schmidt.(64) Formal decision on the issue was not to be released until January of 1991 after 60 days of considering more suggestions from politicians and agencies regarding mitigation plans.(65)
Schmidt's final decision included trimming the proposed 6,600 acre ski area by approximately 1,800 acres to accommodate the two areas of special concern for residents - the Green Creek area and the land near the Service Creek Wilderness Area. These two areas were labeled as potential areas for expansion, but undevelopable until at least 1994 when a revised Forest Plan was completed. The extra four years of study would give the Forest Service more time to study potential impacts to the two areas.(66) For the time being, however, this was a small victory for environmentalists.
Opponents of Schmidt's decision announced plans to appeal the decision, despite the fact that all appropriate mitigation measures suggested in the FEIS would be used. In December of 1990, Joan Hoffman (for the Sierra Club) began organizing the appeal process around wetland and wildlife issues. Impacts to 1,000 acres of montane wetlands had not been adequately addressed, according to Hoffman, nor had viable alternatives to the huge ski area.(67)
In April of 1991, Schmidt's supervisor, Regional Forester Elizabeth Estill reviewed the appeal. After considering the Sierra Club's complaints with the FEIS, Estill decided she could find nothing wrong with the decision, thus, the appeal was denied.(68) The Sierra Club is still considering suing the Forest Service for violating the law by approving a development that doesn't comply with the Clean Air Act.(69)
Approval of the Special Use Permit was contingent on the developers getting the resort approved by several other government agencies. Officials in the Denver office of the EPA said, "We continue to have serious concerns regarding the project's compliance with Section 404 of the Clean Water Act," which governs development along the Yampa River.(70) Lake Catamount also had to win approval from the US. Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA, the CO Health Dept., the CO Division of Wildlife, and Routt County (for county building permits).(71) All of these approvals were obtained in the last two years, with the 404 permit proving to be the most costly and difficult to obtain.(72)
In order to satisfy the Army Corps' wetlands mitigation requirements, LCJV was forced to buy a 600 acre ranch on Brinker Creek, several miles from the development site, where it will create 10 acres of wetlands for every one acre it destroys at Catamount and doesn't replace elsewhere on-site.(73) The Corps' permit was granted in the summer of 1991.(74) Like all permits, it is contingent upon completion of the mitigation described in the document.
Currently, the developers are working with the Forest Service to put the finishing touches on the Final Master Plan, a document created by the two parties which: outlines plans for mitigation relevant to contingent permits received by all the agencies involved, and which oversees the construction phases on the private land.(75) The Plan must coincide with Forest Service enforcement of the EIS and the 150 laws which govern federal lands.(76)
Under the FEIS, the development of the ski area will be completed in four five-year phases with each successive phase contingent upon the completion of the relevant mitigations.(77) The Final Master Plan, documenting how all the development and mitigation will proceed, should be completed within six months to a year.(78)
But When Will They Start Building?
The granting of the Special Use Permit in 1990 meant that LCJV could begin construction on the private land and proceed with finding investors for the resort. "This project will take a great deal of money to do correctly," Martin Hart commented.(79) Having spent millions of dollars already, LCJV plans to proceed cautiously, as it still isn't clear how much ongoing mitigation will add to the bill. Before beginning construction, the developers want to make sure all plans and permits are written in stone.(80)
Jo Geir, spokesperson for LCJV, claims that progress is being made, despite the fact that no ground has been broken yet. "We have land planners designing the base area, engineers working on road, water, and sewer plans, and a golf course consultant designing the two planned courses," she said. A water treatment plant may be begun next summer, but construction won't begin for at least two years.(81)
Joan Hoffman, of the Sierra Club, sees the situation differently, and doesn't believe the resort will ever be built. "There has been very little action by the developers since the FEIS was issued. It's a real estate development, and the market hasn't been good in the past few years," she said. In addition to questioning the financial feasibility of the project, Hoffman predicted more road blocks for the developers in the future.
"There are still a lot of issues that have not been addressed - employee housing, school district funds, taxes. The County Commissioners we have now are really in favor of sustainable development, and they understand that the locals won't go for a Plan that will cost them more in taxes, with little in the way of benefits." Hoffman predicts that the County Commissioners will make things difficult and expensive for the developers, perhaps too expensive.(82)
When asked if there was a point at which the Lake Catamount dispute could be considered over, Jo Geir said, "We're a Planned Unit Development. We have to go to the County for approval every time we build a building. We'll be going to the County three or four times a year for the next 30 years. There is no end."(83)
By all outward appearances, this environmental dispute was won by the developers, but only time will tell whether they will be successful in realizing their vision. Lake Catamount Joint Venture certainly made more progress than did the first developers, but the possibility exists that this company will experience the same fate as did Pleasant Valley Investment Company, especially as the cost of development and mitigation increases.
Adding to the questionable situation is the continually evolving and increasingly anti-growth political climate, wherein Colorado Western Slope communities are being forced to come to terms with overcrowding, quality of life, and the realization that tourism is not always a "clean" industry.
Looking back to the early 1970s and tracing the evolution of the Lake Catamount controversy, several questions arise concerning how today's situation came to be. What were the driving forces contributing to LCJV's "success"? Why did the process take so long? What circumstances were necessary in order for a resolution (of sorts) to be reached? Finally, what mistakes were made, and what was done well?
I believe that it was the administrative setting in Routt County (and in most of the West, for that matter) that determined the fate of Lake Catamount. Throughout the history of the dispute, there was never any doubt in my mind that the developers would eventually get the permits necessary to build. The pervasive attitude amongst Forest Service personnel and the County Commissioners that any impact can be mitigated if enough money is spent meant that the decision to build or not to build would be determined by the developer's desire and/or ability to continue to pay.
Sumner Hockett, Routt County Commissioner in 1973, characterized this inability to "just say no" in the following quote, in which he refers to his dilemma over whether to allow PVIC to go ahead with their project: "I think that the developers are doing a good job. They aren't outsiders, but local boys. I agree that I don't think there's a need, but if there isn't, well, the developers will go broke! I think that there is too much development in this County, but how are you going to stop it?"(84)
This attitude is relevant to another significant phenomenon in the shaping of the events leading up to today, that of putting the proverbial cart before the horse. In this case history, the planning process was turned upside down. Construction was begun on the dam before the proper permits were in place; the lake was created before the resort was approved, and the resort was planned before the ski area was permitted! This backward process resulted in the developers always having a raison d'être (i.e. "But the lake is already there...." and "But there's going to be a resort there anyway, why not add a ski area?")
Another major factor contributing to Catamount's history is the long, drawn-out nature of the process. Because the public (and many of the people involved in issuing permits for the process) had reservations about the project, every conceivable delay tactic was utilized. The public requested extensions on virtually every comment period in the EIS process; the Forest Supervisor issued only a "Preliminary" decision with the Final EIS instead of the usual "Final" Record of Decision, so as to allow even more time for comments on mitigation; the Sierra Club is waiting until the last possible minute (until the bulldozers come out) to sue the Forest Service in order to stall the process, and even the developers are abstaining from developing, despite the fact that they have all the permits (perhaps because they're wary of what they may be getting into?).
These "delay and deny" tactics (as the Forest Service officially refers to their legitimate methods to buy more time) seem to indicate a reluctance on everyone's part to embark on such a huge project. There is no reason to believe that things will change, as the project is not scheduled to be finished for thirty years. The moral of the story seems to be that sitting in limbo is easier than a harsh "Yes" or "No."
Factors Leading to "Resolution"
While the Sierra Club would claim that this case is far from resolved, the fact remains that LCJV now has a Special Use Permit to build a ski area on public land, and all the other permits it needs. How did this happen, with such a vocal and influential citizenry? I believe the key words here are "mitigation" and "appeasement."
The public never got the satisfaction of stopping the development in its tracks, but it did continually win small victories in procedural issues unrelated to the key substantive issues. For instance, comment periods were extended; administrative meetings (such as the JRP) were opened up to the public; public hearings were added to the original plan to have only open houses for comments; and small tracts of "environmentally sensitive" land were deleted from the final proposal. These scraps of victory and appeasement were enough to keep the crowds in check.
"Mitigation" was the big buzzword used in this case to soothe concerned citizens. The prevailing attitude was that "Anything can be mitigated,' and one environmentalist commented that the developers were given the DEIS as a tool to verify this belief.(85) A Forest Service official opined that the Catamount FEIS contained the largest mitigation package in the history of Colorado.(86)
Steamboat resident Julie Alkema sums up the problem inherent in this idealistic perspective in a 1989 letter to the editor of the Steamboat Pilot: "It has been mentioned at the County Commissioners" meetings and in letters to the Pilot that we should trust the DEIS because of the number of expert consultants who contributed, and the high costs. How many people are naive enough to believe that the amount of money the government spends validates the end product?"(87)
These factors have all contributed to the situation Routt County finds itself in today, one of contemplating at least thirty more years of controversy characterized by similar phenomena.
If It Could Be Done All Over....
Before permitting any more projects the size of Catamount, Routt County needs to figure out what it wants. One poll conducted by the Steamboat Pilot found that 54% of the people thought the impacts of Catamount would be positive,(88) while a Forest Service poll found 52% of Routt County adults opposed to the project.(89) Some say the area "desperately needs more golf courses" since Vail has nine and Steamboat only has two,(90) while others fear the detrimental effects of the tourist industry.(91) One citizen summed up the dilemma by characterizing Catamount as "a developer's dream and a local's nightmare."(92) Routt County citizens need to elect officials who have a good grasp of the concept of "sustainable development," which they appear to have done in recent years.(93)
Future developers can learn from this case by noting the importance of having local citizens on their side. Locals need to be more proactively incorporated into the planning process, so as to have a sense of ownership in the future of their County. In this way, a project like Catamount doesn't "happen' to them, rather they help create it.
In What Way a Model?
In an effort to be environmentally conscious and to demonstrate that it wasn't concerned only with money, LCJV created the Henry and Helen Rehder Wildlife Preserve by acquiring the development rights to the adjacent Rehder's property, and donating them to the Department of Wildlife to be managed as elk calving and wintering habitat.(94) The move was even more notable for the fact that the land was considered prime for real estate development. Actions like these go a long way in engendering the trust of local citizens who may be questioning a developer's motives.
One other way that Lake Catamount Joint Venture serves as a role model for other developers contemplating projects in environmentally sensitive areas is in its adherence to legal procedures, long and drawn-out and costly as they may be. At least one other developer (in Telluride) has recently discovered that it is less expensive to develop wetlands without a 404 permit and pay a fine, than it is to go through the required mitigation and permitting process. One can only hope that this doesn't become a trend.
Over all, my impression is that Lake Catamount Joint Venture has proven to be a fairly responsible developer caught in the middle of a philosophical debate about the future of the rural West, made even more complicated by a cumbersome and sometimes inadequate administrative process.
(1) Steamboat Pilot, March 23, 1989.
(2) Steamboat Pilot, March 23, 1989
(4) Phone conversation with Jo Geir, LCJV, November 24, 1993.
(5) Hayden Valley Press, September 16, 1976.
(6) Hayden Valley Press, September 16, 1976.
(7) Steamboat Pilot, March 23, 1989.
(8) Hayden Valley Press, September 2, 1976.
(9) Hayden Valley Press, September 16, 1976.
(10) Steamboat Pilot, August 8, 1985.
(11) Steamboat Pilot, October, 1973.
(14) Steamboat Pilot, March 23, 1989.
(17) Sunday Denver Post, September 12, 1976.
(19) Steamboat Pilot, August 8, 1985.
(20) Steamboat Pilot, September 16, 1976.
(21) Steamboat Pilot, August 8, 1985.
(22) Steamboat Pilot, March 19, 1987.
(23) Sunday Denver Post, September 12, 1976.
(24) Steamboat Pilot, March 23, 1989.
(27) Routt National Forest Update, August, 1990.
(29) Routt National Forest Update, November, 1990.
(30) Steamboat Magazine, Winter/Spring, 1981.
(31) Steamboat Pilot, March 23, 1989.
(32) Steamboat Pilot, August 22, 1985.
(33) "Lake Catamount: A Master Planned Recreation Area," LCJV, October, 1990.
(34) Steamboat Pilot, June 19, 1986.
(35) Steamboat Pilot, August 28, 1985.
(36) Steamboat Pilot, June 19, 1985.
(37) Steamboat Pilot, August 28, 1985.
(38) Steamboat Pilot, May 8, 1986.
(40) Phone conversation with Jo Geir, LCJV, November 24, 1993.
(41) Routt National Forest Update, November, 1990.
(42) Steamboat Pilot, May 8, 1986.
(44) Routt National Forest Update, November 1990.
(45) Steamboat Pilot, May 8, 1986.
(46) Steamboat Pilot, August 28, 1986.
(47) Steamboat Pilot, June 19, 1986.
(48) Steamboat Pilot, March 19, 1987.
(50) Steamboat Pilot, March 23, 1989.
(51) Steamboat Pilot, March 16, 1989.
(55) Steamboat Pilot, March 23, 1989.
(56) Steamboat Pilot, March 30, 1989.
(57) Steamboat Pilot, March 16, 1989.
(58) Steamboat Pilot, April 20, 1989.
(59) Steamboat Pilot, March 16, 1989.
(61) Steamboat Pilot, June 1, 1989.
(62) Steamboat Pilot, July 17, 1990.
(63) Steamboat Pilot, November 22, 1990.
(64) Denver Post, February 15, 1991.
(65) Steamboat Pilot, November 22, 1990.
(68) Phone conversation with Rocky Smith, Colorado Environmental Coalition, November 29, 1993.
(69) Phone conversation with Joan Hoffman, Sierra Club, November 29, 1993.
(70) Denver Post, February 15, 1991.
(72) Phone conversation with Jo Geir, LCJV, November 29, 1993.
(74) Phone conversation with Rocky Smith, CEC, November 29, 1993.
(75) Phone conversation with Jo Geir, LCJV, November 24, 1993.
(76) Routt National Forest Update, November, 1990.
(77) Lake Catamount Resort Record of Decision, February, 1991.
(78) Phone conversation with Jo Geir, LCJV, November 29, 1993.
(79) Steamboat Pilot, February 15, 1993.
(80) Phone conversation with Jo Geir, LCJV, November 29, 1993.
(82) Phone conversation with Joan Hoffman, Sierra Club, November 29, 1993.
(83) Phone conversation with Jo Geir, November 29, 1993.
(84) Steamboat Pilot, October, 1973.
(85) Steamboat Pilot, June 1, 1989.
(86) Routt National Forest Update, November, 1990.
(87) Steamboat Pilot, June 1, 1989.
(88) Steamboat Pilot, June 29, 1989.
(89) Lake Catamount Record of Decision, February, 1991.
(90) Steamboat Magazine, Winter/Spring 1987.
(91) Phone conversation with Joan Hoffman, November 29, 1993.
(92) Steamboat Pilot, June 1, 1989.
(93) Phone conversation with Joan Hoffman, November 29, 1993.
(94) Steamboat Pilot, April 13, 1989.