A decade-old effort to expand the downhill ski area to the “back side” of Mount Spokane is in its final proposal stage, sitting on the desk of the Washington State Parks director.
Environmentalists filed a suit on a technicality last summer, but it has not yet been heard by the Court of Appeals.
Meanwhile, the final environmental impact statement was released this week. Work to clear new ski runs could begin this winter, said Brad McQuarrie, Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park general manger.
The alternative preferred by state parks officials calls for a new chairlift, seven new ski trails and tree-clearing or other development on about 85 acres of the 279-acre expansion area within the 1,425-acre concession at Mount Spokane State Park.
Going into this season, the downhill ski area is maintaining 32 ski runs, five chairlifts, a ski patrol building and two lodges. Mt. Spokane ski area’s main lodge will be about a third larger after the $320,000 project is completed, McQuarrie said.
Mount Spokane 2000 has been pursuing the ski area expansion to provide more intermediate-level terrain and take advantage of better snow conditions in order to compete with recent upgrades at ski areas throughout the region.
If State Parks Director Don Hoch approves the expansion proposal, the ski area will apply for timber harvest permits from Spokane County, McQuarrie said.
The plan calls for removing trees during winter to reduce damage to the land. Building and grading permits also have to be obtained before the chairlift could be installed, he said.
Concerns were raised last year from a range of environmental groups and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regarding the expansion’s impact on wildlife habitat, native plants and water quality.
“Nothing came to our attention (in the comment phase) that we couldn’t address in the revised proposal,” said Virginia Painter, state parks public affairs staffer in Olympia.
The Spokane Mountaineers, a group that has a chalet on the mountain and has used the park regularly for nearly a century, opposes the expansion as an unnecessary intrusion on the mountain environment.
“Almost all of the expansion area is pristine without development, roads or even weeds,” said Jeff Lambert, of the Mountaineers’ conservation committee.
“The biological diversity includes 40 plant species not found elsewhere in the park. The expansion area is the largest undisturbed ecosystem in Spokane County. … Increasing the number of runs from 32 to 39 will not save a ski area doomed by climate change.”
A legal appeal filed by The Lands Council contends the ski area expansion proposal shouldn’t have come this far, at least not this fast.
“The Parks Commission gave its approval for the process to start before the first (environmental impact statement) was done,” said Jeff Juel, the group’s forest policy director.
“We say the EIS should have been done first so they knew all of the environmental consequences before they made that decision.”