A group of Lookout Pass regulars are once again voicing concern over what they see as a lack of progress on a 650-acre expansion project at the ski area. The nonprofit Friends of Lookout Pass have taken issue with a recent letter from Portland-based SWCA Environmental Consultants—the third-party group responsible for preparing an environmental impact statement—informing the resort that it underbid its original cost estimate by $120,000. That figure raises the total price tag for the impact analysis from $500,000 to $620,000.
Barry Dutton, a past consultant on ski area expansion projects and spokesperson for Friends of Lookout Pass, fears the possible effect of such a cost increase on lift pass prices in the future.
“We don’t want to stand here and watch our ski area get taken for a ride and increase all of our costs,” Dutton says.
Lookout Pass first proposed its two-lift, 15-run expansion plan five years ago, but the project only entered the initial scoping phase this spring. Dutton has long been a vocal critic of the U.S. Forest Service’s approach to the project, arguing the agency should have opted for a less costly and time-consuming environmental assessment over a full EIS.
“What they’re heading to at Lookout is another $1 million, 10-year fiasco like Snowbowl,” he says. “This project should cost a fourth of that, and yet the ski area’s committed to half a million up front.”
In its summer newsletter, Friends of Lookout Pass referred to the $120,000 as a cost increase. Coeur d’Alene River District Ranger Chad Hudson is careful to phrase it differently, saying the amount is the result of the consultant initially underbidding how much it would cost to perform initial fieldwork and technical reports. He adds the Forest Service is now reviewing the company’s fieldwork proposal; the agency hopes the work will remain on schedule to finish this year.
“It was an underbid situation—and I said ‘underbid’ specifically—for the fieldwork aspect,” Hudson says. “They did not account for enough time and personnel for the fieldwork aspect of the analysis.”
As for the results of this summer’s public comment, Hudson says the project drew more than 60 letters from individuals and at least 22 more from state and local agencies and nonprofits. Concerns ranged from backcountry user displacement to impacts on cultural resources and access to fish and wildlife. Almost all those issues also came up during three open houses, he adds.
Dutton has voiced complaints with the timing of those public meetings, as well. Friends of Lookout Pass has slowed down its efforts during the summer months, but Dutton feels the group’s membership will “balloon” come winter, when they can spread the word on Lookout’s chairlifts.