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Last Public Meeting on Mt. Spokane Proposal, For Now

Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park

Mount Spokane owners and conservation group The Lands Council are reaching the end of a long and difficult run. This week the state parks commission will make a decision on whether skiing is allowed on an 800 acre spot on the mountain.

The Washington State Parks commission will decide two items on Thursday morning: a land classification for a chunk of mountain  deemed the PASEA, and what ski development to approve, if any. Environmental Program Manager Randy Kline says they expect such a large turnout they are taking public comments the night before.

Kline: “Well ski area expansions are almost universally contentious…Yeah it’s certainly one of the most controversial issues that we have here at state parks.”

This summer more than 700 people submitted comments for the environmental impact statement (EIS) on the ski proposal.

Ski concessionaire MS 2000 has submitted plans for new ski runs on the west facing slope since 2007, but with every step has opposition from the Lands Council. This time the commission has four land classifications to choose from. Laura Ackerman with the Lands Council says they are supporting land classification option 2.

Ackerman: “…that provides this forest the best protection. The designation will be a natural forest area, which is being used right now de-facto.”

It would allow for some hiking and snow-shoeing, but no more backcountry skiing, and definitely not a chairlift. Brad McQuarrie says natural forest area, NFA, is not a sustainable option. He’s the general manager of Mount Spokane and leader of the development proposal.

Credit Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission
This topographic map shows the PASEA, the proposed ski expansion area, adjacent to the current alpine ski terrain (in pink).

[McQuarrie] “The NFAs that are set up now are in areas that are not in use and … they don’t have formal trails through them, paved roads, cell towers, and different things like the PASEA has in it.”

He’d like the commission to pass option four, which classifies part of the western slope as recreation, part as NFA, and part as resource recreation.

[McQuarrie] “Then there’s the possibility of say a horse trail… so folks really need to look at that matrix of what’s allowed and what isn’t allowed.”

The land classification decision will determine whether the parks commission even looks at ski proposals, which there are three of.

She says the PASEA is an area of biological importance, and an area important to humans as well.

[Ackerman] “And we have how many other ski resorts? They don’t get any public funds... MS 2000 has received money from the legislature for upgrading… we want the ski area to succeed but we think what they have is enough.”

McQuarrie says a 2007 economic studies supports expansion as Mount Spokane’s best option. He says there are other places in the 14,000 acre park that could become natural forest area.

MS 2000’s plan looks strong going into this commission vote. For one, the state parks commission staff has written a report advocating for land classification four. That same reports notes that the mountain historically was used for skiing. It also notes that the PASEA is expected to serve as a critical refuge for species as climate change progresses. McQuarrie sees the commission’s history in his favor.

[McQuarrie] “The 2011 commission decided to move forward, along with the 2007 commission, the’99 commission and the ’92 commission. This has been a long process, each move has been a step forward.”

Laura Ackerman says if the commission chooses pro-development options come Thursday, nothing is off the table. That includes further appeals.

[Ackerman] “This is a very important area in terms of biodiversity, there’s a lot of important species that use it, but if its cut we can’t get back.”

Randy Kline says this is about balancing the state parks mission.

[Kline] “This is really about balancing two parts of the state parks mission which is about providing recreation opportunities but also being stewards of those lands that we manage, so it’s a difficult one.”

The public meeting is Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Center Place Recreation Center, and the commission meets Thursday morning at Spokane City Hall at 9:00.

Copyright 2014 Spokane Public Radio

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