The Mount Sunapee ski resort is hoping to build out a new 75 acre area of the mountain known as the “West Bowl” with new trails and a new, high speed chairlift. But to do that, it needs to overcome some environmental concerns. Opponents to the plan say the build-out would likely raze a section of forest that a new report says is part of a thriving ecosystem with some trees as old as 170 years-old.
Jeff Rose, the Commissioner of the Department of Resources and Economic Development joined Morning Edition.
The Mount Sunapee Advisory Committee submitted their master, five-year plan last year. But a recent report by the state’s Natural Heritage Bureau recommends protecting some areas of the West Bowl from development. It calls the forests “exemplary” but concedes they are not so-called “old growth” forests. Are you talking with them about reaching a compromise?
We’re working closely in evaluating the Master Development Plan right now. This report was an important piece of information that will help us evaluate the impacts of the forest in the West Bowl. It was discovered that it’s a mature forest but it is not an old growth forest, but it is an exemplary natural community.
What’s the conversation been like?
We’ve actually received well over 300 comments from the public. I’d say about two-thirds of those respondents have been positive and favorable towards the plan or the resort, whether that’s from an economic development perspective or a travel and tourism perspective. But there were also many concerns that were raised. So I’m in the process of evaluating those comments now. We’ve posted them on our website, a lot of the inventory of comments we’ve received. And I continue to get additional information—things like this Natural Heritage Bureau report that will be very helpful as I try to make a balanced decision on this plan.
Is the decision just yea or nay or are we talking about some middle ground here?
We’ll see how it all unfolds, but I will say that there will be another period of public comment after the decision I do reach. So people can continue to weigh in on the process and I want to make sure that it’s transparent and very thoughtful and deliberate. And I look forward to continuing the discussion.
What kind of flexibility either with the the design or the definition of “exemplary” do you have to work with? Have there been any third options floated or ways to mitigate damage?
As part of natural exemplary community, our first preference would be to avoid impacts. However, you can look at trying to minimize and potentially mitigate. But we’ll see as I evaluate all the different statutes that we have to protect and provide us guidance. I think we’re well served in New Hampshire with the statutes that we have and trying to make sure that we bring a balance to process—evaluating the impacts on our natural communities but also evaluating the recreational opportunities, the multi-use purposes and the unique structure of our state park system.
Mount Sunapee is coming up on a deadline here, as I understand it. Things need to be settled or postponed in order for them to plan for next winter. Is there enough time to settle this before Spring or will it be placed on the backburner?
No, this is first and foremost on my things to do and I’m focused very diligently on this. And I look forward to having some public comment period come out again hopefully some time here in the spring, and make sure the Mount Sunapee resort is able to do the planning that they need in order to do the five-year Master Development Plan but also to submit their annual operating plan.
So there will be some kind of decision in the process in the next few months, and then another comment period. How long with that be?
That’s to be determined. And this will ultimately be something that I have to make sure moves forward. There may likely be some changes based on some court rulings that we have to take into consideration. And there very well could be another step of the process which could include going before Governor and council.