Talks on White Pine continue
Sublette Commissioners hold another workshop with Citizens to Save White Pine
by Dawn Ballou, Pinedale Online!
September 28, 2011
The Sublette Commissioners held a workshop on Tuesday, September 27th, with the Pinedale business owners, Citizens to Save White Pine (CSWP), to continue discussions on the situation of White Pine Ski area. This was their second workshop between the group and the county commissioners on this topic. No decisions were made and no public comment was taken during the two sessions.
The first meeting was held on Friday, September 16th.
Click on this link for a report on that meeting: Sublette Commissioners meet with Citizens group to discuss White Pine ski area (Pinedale Online!)
Attending the Sept. 27 workshop were Commissioners Joel Bousman, John Linn and Andy Nelson. Attending representing CSWP were Ken Konicek, Rex Poulson, and Bonnie and Tony Chambers. At the request of Commissioner Andy Nelson, Sublette County School District #1 Superintendent Jay Harnack, and Business Manager Vern McAdams, attended the workshop. Approximately 25 members of the public were present to hear the discussions.
Rex Poulson, of CSWP, repeated the groupís earlier position that they are looking for some kind of long-term support from the county hoping they will take over running the ski area. The group presented the Commissioners with a list of five ideas for how they believe the County could help with short-term assistance for winter operation for 2011-2012 at the ski area. They pointed out that there are several other ski areas around the state that are being run by county governments, so that model is being done in other places.
They listed these options:
1. Stay Closed
2. Sublette County lease and operate the ski hill and lodge while CSWP continues to hold the Forest Service permit and maintain the insurance.
3. Sublette County lease and operate the ski hill while CSWP operates the lodge operations, insurance and FS permit.
4. Sublette County lease and operate only the ski lift while CSWP operates the lodge and some ski hill functions.
5. Sublette County contract with CSWP for alpine ski hill operations and pay CSWP a fee for the grooming through non-profit organizations
Click on this link for the CSWP option proposal (2-page PDF)
Tony Chambers said their groupís preferences were the ones at the top of the list (to have the county lease and operate the ski hill.)
While the Commissioners were in agreement that the ski area is an asset to the community, all reiterated that they were not able to spend taxpayer dollars to assist a for-profit business. They did, however, all expressed their support to continue to fund plowing Skyline Drive, which helps with public safety on the road for public access for Nordic skiing and snowmobiling recreation access to the area.
Commissioner John Linn rhetorically asked if purchasing the ski area was something that should be taken to a vote of the people? Linn said they would need to have a petition to that effect, and there wasnít time for it to get into this yearís election cycle. Linn said, to him, the only viable option that had merit to continue consideration was option #5. "The purchase is out," he said.
Commissioner Nelson said he did not have a problem taking it to the people for a vote. He said he would agree to continue discussing options for #5.
Commissioner Bousman said his position had not changed and he was opposed to the county purchasing the ski area. "That operation belongs to you guys," he said. Bousman said he didnít think the CSWP group had tried very hard to find a buyer because they always had the expectation of trying to sell it to the county. "Thatís not going to happen," he said. He again encouraged the CSWP to expand their business model to take advantage of the summer operations and make their business more attractive to a potential private buyer. "Weíre just creating a black hole to dump money in," Bousman said regarding more extensive county assistance.
School Superintendent, Jay Harnack, said the School District would need the CSWP to give them specifics for annual costs before they could evaluate how much they might be able to assist with. He wanted numbers for the insurance, propane, etc. and what the group was asking of the school district.
After a suggestion that Sublette County Prosecuting Attorney Neal Stelting assist the group in creating proposals to come back to the Commissioners with, Stelting spoke up rejecting that idea. "I represent the Countyís interest," he said, saying the CSWP should hire their own counsel if they felt they needed legal representation in the process. Before being elected as Sublette County Attorney, Stelting had provided legal assistance to the CSWP group. That relationship ended once he took office, he said.
Five local Pinedale business owners invested money together last summer to form the Citizens to Save White Pine partnership which purchased the White Pine assets and took over the Forest Service permits in order to keep the financially struggling ski area running. The group was able to staff the operations and offer a winter alpine ski season, however the ski area continued to run at a significant loss despite their efforts. The group issued a media release on September 13th announcing they were suspending operation for the 2011-2012 season. The group then formally approached the Sublette County Commissioners with a request the county purchase the ski area from them, hopefully reimbursing their substantial investments, and take over running the ski area using taxpayer dollars.