Just days before he’d have to go to court to protect the details of a new Bitterroot Resort ski area plan, Tom Maclay decided to release the proposal to the public himself.
The 20-page document gives rough details for “the development of an alpine skiing, Nordic skiing and snowboarding public resort” in the high-altitude Carlton Lakes basin south of Lolo Peak. The U.S. Forest Service has twice before rejected Maclay’s plans for building a ski resort there.
“The big difference in this one is it’s all on national forest land,” Stevensville District Ranger Dan Ritter said Monday. “It’s also got some different configurations of proposed lodges in different places. And it doesn’t propose any modifications in the Carlton Resource Natural Area.”
Maclay’s previous designs used his family’s 3,000-acre ranch below the Carlton Lakes basin as a base area. Earlier versions also infringed on the resource natural area, which is off-limits to commercial activity.
The project went into foreclosure in 2009, and financer Metropolitan Life Agricultural Investments took over the whole 3,000-acre Maclay family ranch at a sheriff’s sale in 2012. Met Life took the deed on Feb. 27.
Maclay submitted the new plan as the managing member of a limited liability company called Special Use Permit for Public Resort Benefits, or SUPPRB. Maclay is the only principal listed under the company’s incorporation filing with the state of Montana.
Maclay and his spokesman Tim Newhart declined to discuss the latest proposal, and initially resisted making it public at all when they submitted it to the Stevensville Ranger District on May 24. The Ravalli Republic newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see the proposal, and Maclay had until July 10 to go to court for further protection.
“I think the document speaks for itself,” Newhart said Monday. “It’s pretty concise.”
Newhart also declined to say where Maclay was living. His home on the edge of the proposed resort was included in the foreclosure order. On his application, Maclay listed his 17000 Old Highway 93 address in Florence as a street address, but offered a post office box in Lolo as his mailing address.
The proposal states the resort base area would be on Bitterroot National Forest property reached by the McClain Creek Road, also known as Forest Road 1311. This road passes through Maclay’s former property, including the ski trails visible on the slopes west of U.S. Highway 93.
“From a parking area, skiers would be shuttled to the Mountain Base Area using frequently departing bus shuttle service, similar to the systems long used at such major resorts as Breckenridge and Mammoth Mountain,” the proposal stated. It suggests five construction phases, with all ski lifts getting built on Bitterroot or Lolo national forest lands.
Ritter said the plan is going through the Forest Service’s nine-question initial screening process to see if it’s worthy of greater attention. The questions check if the proposal is consistent with federal laws and regulations; meets standards of the forest plans governing the Bitterroot and Lolo national forests; doesn’t conflict with other uses of the area; and avoids gambling, sexually oriented commercial services, paramilitary training exercises, or the disposal of garbage or hazardous substances.
“It’s a coarse filter to make sure it is worth going forward to use taxpayer dollars for further analysis,” Ritter said of the initial screening. The Forest Service agreed to the screening on June 26, and has 60 days to complete that process.
A second screening would look at the plan’s financial and technical capabilities. If it passes both those reviews, the Forest Service would begin a full National Environmental Policy Act review, including public comment.
Maclay’s plan calls for a day lodge and restaurant in a “natural clearing near an existing road at an elevation of 8,250 feet” near Carlton Ridge. That’s where the ideal snow on the mountain accumulates, according to the report. It would make the Bitterroot Resort “a first choice for family vacations due to the earliest openings and longest seasons.”
Additional phases might bring a high-speed gondola near Lolo Creek, and additional “guest conveniences” at Mill Creek, Lantern Ridge and Carlton Ridge.
In the plan’s introduction, Maclay claimed Forest Service officials had been considering a ski resort for the area since the 1960s. In addition to the winter sports, the plan envisioned a summer season when hikers could access the lodge from Mormon Peak Road.
“This proposal takes into account the long history of off-road vehicle use on Carlton Ridge,” the plan stated. “It is unlikely that skiing or hiking in this area will have impacts beyond the historic use.”