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Alta Ski Area did such a nice job revising its proposed alignment for a new Supreme chairlift that the U.S. Forest Service does not believe the project warrants as much environmental review as is being done on 11 other projects desired by the resort.
But before finalizing that decision, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest Supervisor David Whittekiend wants the public to weigh in on his agency's determination that the changes which take some old lift towers out of Albion Basin's largest wetland and avoid putting new ones in preclude the need for more detailed environmental review.
Through Jan. 24, comments on the Forest Service's proposed handling of the lift-replacement plan should be mailed to Salt Lake District Ranger Rebecca Hotze at 6944 S. 3000 East, Cottonwood Heights, 84121. They also may be hand-delivered to that address weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A plan to replace the Supreme chairlift was one of a dozen projects that Alta submitted to the Forest Service in December of 2015 for inclusion in the resort's master-development plan.
The most striking of these was a proposal to build a tram from Germania Ridge to near the summit of Mount Baldy.
Another foresaw construction of a lift called Flora from Sugarbowl to another point on Germania Ridge, eliminating the need for the East Greeley traverse that skiers take to get from Sugarloaf to Collins lift. Restoration of Flora Lake near the base of that new lift also was on Alta's wish list.
The lineup also included a proposal to take out the beginner-oriented Cecret chairlift and to replace Supreme with a longer lift that starts closer to the midmountain Alf's Restaurant.
Alta's original plan had the new lift initially taking the same route as the old Cecret lift, then bending at an angle station to follow the existing Supreme alignment to the Catherine's ridgeline.
But that route would keep chairlift towers in the "Albion fen" the term applied to the largest wetland in the Albion Basin a deficiency pointed out by commenters, including the nonprofit Friends of Alta.
"Alignments that steer clear of the wetland should be considered," wrote Jen Clancy, Friends of Alta executive director. "We do support the removal of the unused Cecret lift towers from the wetland and restoration of these disturbances."
The comments made an impact.
"The Forest Service asked us if there's a better way to avoid that," said Alta Ski Area General Manager Onno Wieringa. "So we took a relook at it and, sure enough, we saw that if we bent [the lift] in a different place, we could miss that fen."
Alta's revised alignment now has the lift going over the wetland without sinking any towers in its fragile surface. Its base terminal also is farther from Alf's Restaurant, alleviating Forest Service concerns about skier flow.
The new detachable quad lift would be 5,030 feet long, up from Supreme's current length of 3,250 feet. It also would do away with the "magic carpet" conveyor belt Alta installed a decade ago to make the fixed-grip Supreme chair easier to get onto.
Construction would involve installation of 22 towers, mostly where Supreme's towers are now.
Whittekiend said those revisions seemed sufficient to separate this project out from the other 11 still being evaluated in a detailed environmental assessment (EA).
Besides being pleased by the prospect of having a project to do next summer, Alta's Wieringa complimented the environmental-review process for leading to a better solution.
"When I'm not in a hurry, I'm quite a supporter of NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act] because it gets into all the issues," he said. "It's expensive and cumbersome and takes time, but at the end of the day, it's a good process. You can't deny it works."