Sipapu Presents Revised Expansion Plan to the Public

By KAY MATTHEWS

Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort held two public meetings the week of January 10 to discuss changes to its amended 2019 Development Plan (MDP). Both meetings were facilitated by Heather Bergman of Peak Facilitation, whom the resort hired several years ago to mediate public gatherings. La Jicarita attended the virtual meeting on January 12, in which John Paul Bradley, Sipapu General Manager, presented a brief history of the proposed development, public reaction to the MDP, and the status of the current amended and revised MDP. Approximately 35 members of the public were in virtual attendance, with mics turned off and questions submitted in the public chat forum.

Bradley gave a quick history of the development plan. Here’s a more detailed account. Sipapu first proposed a version of the expansion that is currently under consideration back in 1990: an expansion of the boundary from 185 acres to 977 acres (220 skiable acres); two new parking areas; two new lifts; and an additional 2,700 square foot restaurant/ski patrol building, including a well and septic system, at the top of the mountain. That proposal was never implemented—Carson National Forest withdrew the 1995 Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)—but the proposal was kept in the bin for future use. After James Coleman of Mountain Capital Partners LLC purchased the ski resort in 2000, certain changes were made to the plan and a Master Development Plan was submitted, and accepted, by the Forest Service in 2012. Subsequent changes were made and an amended MDP was resubmitted, and accepted by the Forest Service in February of 2019. The proposed increase in boundary size, 977 acres, remained the same, although in the intervening years Sipapu has incrementally increased its boundary from 185 to 238 acres. The MDP also included 52 new trails, an additional 199 skiable acres, 11 gladed runs, three new lifts, the mountain top restaurant (although they said they would use composting toilets instead of a septic system), and extensive summer time activities including an additional disc golf course, mountain biking, climbing wall, bungee trampoline, summer tubing operation, zip line tours, and special evening stargazing.

2019 Master Development Plan before revisions discussed in the article.

Bradley went on to discuss the public meetings he held on the MDP beginning in July of 2018 with the residents of Las Mochas, the neighboring community, and over the next few years with acequia communities, land grants, environmentalists, etc. As I discussed in a previous La Jicarita article, some of those meetings became quite heated, as members of the public raised many issues and questioned Bradley extensively on a number of concerns regarding the proposed expansion. Subsequently,  Sipapu recruited Peak Facility to start recording the contents of these meetings and to move towards incorporating changes to the MDV that reflected public concerns.

Bradley reported that the resort developed a list of action items from the public, which he listed as:

  • amount of water rights needed for the expansion;
  • metrics on infrastructure, economic, and social impacts;
  • coordination with acequias;
  • coordination with Picuris Pueblo;
  • coordination with new District 5 County Commissioner (current District 5 Commissioner Candyce McDonnell’s term is up in 2023);
  • establishment of a water quality advisory committee.

Under the rubric of Purpose and Need, Bradley stated that Sipapu is “the fasted growing resort in the Southwest” despite the difficulties of drought, the recession, and the Covid-19 pandemic. He stated that over the past 20 years the resort has seen a rate of 21.3 percent growth per year. That figure was questioned in a submitted comment by Robert Templeton, a member of the Dixon-Peñasco Group of the Pecos Wilderness Coalition, a group of citizens that has been meeting separately with Sipapu and the US Forest Service to present their concerns over the MDP (disclosure: I’m a member of that group). In December of last year the group sent a nine-page letter to Bradley, Sipapu owner James Coleman, and James Duran, Carson National Forest Supervisor, listing their areas of concern— justification for expansion, water rights acquisition, incursion into the Comales Canyon Roadless Area, proposed summer uses, and the potential conflict of interest of SE Group, the consultant hired to help in the design of the expansion and that will conduct the Forest Service EIS—requesting a detailed response.

Bradley went on to say that use on the ski resort’s peak days (holidays, weekends, etc.) has increased by 100 percent over the past decade, and as one of the most affordable ski areas in the state, needs to provide additional terrain for beginner and intermediate skiers, which the expansion would provide.

Bradley then presented the proposed 2019 MDP map showing the 800 increased vertical feet providing for beginner skiing, the expanded intermediate skiing to the west, and the proposed north, east, and Tio Maes trailhead parking. Based on public input, he then showed the proposed revised 2022 map:

  • The west chair lift B above the Las Mochas community is removed;
  • The western boundary near Las Mochas is reduced by 190 acres;
  • The Tio Maes proposed parking area is removed.

The discussion then centered around water use—which Bradley referred to as “a really big item,” particularly for snowmaking. He claimed the 2019 proposal is not contingent on additional water for snowmaking, although in previous community presentations he stated that the resort would seek to buy or lease 56 acre feet per year (afy) of water rights. At this meeting he said that the proposed low elevation terrain reduction along with a focus on slope aspect will require less allocation of snowmaking. La Jicarita submitted the question of whether the resort will still seek to buy or lease water rights and Bradley replied that the expansion is “not contingent on acquiring water rights” but like every other ski area, it will be open to leasing additional rights. When asked about current water use, he said the resort’s water right is for 18.46 afy or 6 millions gallons, which he monitors and reports to the state on a quarterly basis, with a return flow credit of 72 percent (this return flow percentage has been previously challenged).

He also emphasized the resort’s interest in establishing a water advisory board that would be responsible for a rigorous water-sampling program.

Another question was submitted by Dixon farmer Loretta Sandoval on whether the ski area is still using the chemical Drift for snowmaking (it is). She is on record claiming the use of Drift has negatively impacted her farm, but this has never been verified.

Under Parking concerns the big change to the MDP is the removal of the proposed Tio Maes trailhead development because the reduction in skiable terrain would reduce the need for parking. Bradley stated that he has worked with the New Mexico Department of Transportation to increase signage along SH 518 to reduce unsafe highway parking and to reduce the speed limit. He thanked Thom Greiner, a member of the Las Mochas Group of the Pecos Wilderness Coalition, for working with the resort to mitigate the danger of highway parking.

Under Emergency Response concerns the resort hopes to coordinate with EMS services and the Taos County Sheriff’s Department to try to establish on-site EMTs and an on-site ambulance during peak day use.

Under Summer Use, the revised MDV will essentially remain the same as the 2019 proposal to include mountain biking, hiking, a zip line, disc golf, etc.

Bradley assured the crowd that during the NEPA process—which has yet to begin—Sipapu will continue to keep the public updated on the progress of its proposed expansion. You can listen to a recording of both the January 10 and 12 meetings (including the poll results), along with a community feedback form here.

Finally, La Jicarita felt compelled to ask how Sipapu plans to fund the proposed expansion and in light of extreme drought conditions and the climate crisis what the contingency plan is if the ski area doesn’t remain viable. Scott Price, President of Mountain Capital Properties, answered that the expansion will be financed with bank loans and that the US Forest Service Special Use Permit requires that when resorts cease being used the owner is required to remove the infrastructure.

 

6 comments

  1. “if the ski area doesn’t remain viable” Isn’t it a question of when the ski area does not remain viable? A follow-up question: what if the owner is a corporation that declares bankruptcy and walks away? Who cleans up then?

  2. The questioned I asked John Paul were as follows and were not correctly reported by Kay Matthews or accurate for this ‘reporting’ or statement. This is what Kay printed above in this article: ‘Another question was submitted by a farmer in Dixon on whether the ski area is still using the chemical Drift for snowmaking. She is on record claiming the use of Drift has negatively impacted her farm, but this has never been verified.’ Why she included this in her statement and left other question out I asked at this meeting is troubling and inaccurate.
    John Paul answered Yes they have started to use the chemical DRIFT again which Ms.Matthews left out of this statement. She also stated I was on record claming DRIFT has negatively impacted my farm, I requested to see this record, still have not seen this information she based this ‘reporting’ on. I also asked him if they have started the NEPA assessment process (a transcript is available from this public meeting) which he stated in this meeting they have not and have not and to our knowledge ever listed or included the use of snowmaking chemicals in the master plan or NEPA. The NEPA process is a federal requirement that is required when actions that may potentially impact ecosystems negatively are being used. Historical areas, tribal areas, or species that may be impacted by this activity such as aquatic species and in general ecosystems are protected by the NEPA process and not covered under categorical exclusion and assessment of the potential impact. Trisiloxanes which are in DRIFT are highly soluble in water, reduce surface tension of water by altering the chemical bonds irreversible, is toxic, and foam up in water (foam has been seen in Dixon waters and lateral for a few years during runoff). The use is not monitored by NMED because they do not have a current analysis method which is being worked on by an independent scientific group that is assisting us. This reporting of what I asked at this meeting was inaccurate and unprofessional. It seems more like local gossip this reporter heard from others attempting to invalidate our efforts rather then accurate reporting and appears bias. The observational work we have completed is available at NMED surface water division and we are still in the process of investigation. I would contact NMED for a more accurate view of what we are investigating with all due respect.

    • I replied to Loretta Sandoval’s comment the same day she submitted it but it seems to have disappeared. What I said, regarding her complaint that I didn’t give a full report on her questions, was that the meeting was very long and I covered what I thought were the salient issues. I didn’t give more attention to other questions as well. As for her claim that I misspoke about her claims about DRIFT impacting her farm, this statement was made in an earlier Santa Fe New Mexican article and in a phone conversation with me. As for NEPA, I state elsewhere in the article that the NEPA process has not yet begun.

      In February I received another comment from Sandoval that I will not approve on the La Jicarita site. It was an ad hominem attack, which by policy we don’t allow.

  3. Matthews claims to be a journalist but she is really only a blogger. All of the articles contain variations of opinion and clear bias. La Jicarita is informative–I wouldn’t have read your information anywhere else–but you have to read it critically.

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