The Natural Resources Board should re-consider the amendment of the DNR’s master plan for Rib Mountain State Park. That amendment allows Granite Peak to build new ski runs and a new ski lift on 28 acres of park land containing some of the most unique natural features in the whole park, including a State Natural Area established to protect those features. The NRB’s approval was granted without any DNR analysis of the environmental effects. No public input opposing it was possible, because only board member Fred Prehn and Granite Peak’s supporting speakers knew that the board was going to consider such a significant change.
During the DNR hearings and comment periods on the original master plan, Granite Peak had asked for a large expansion of its lease to take park land on the north side of the mountain, west of its present operation. After some 6,000 comments, the DNR rejected expansion of skiing to the west, except for about 35 acres downslope from the State Natural Area. Opponents of westward expansion thought they had generally prevailed, so when the master plan came before the NRB, only two or three people spoke against expansion, addressing only the downslope 35 acres.
However, at that NRB hearing, numerous Granite Peak employees and contractors, representatives of skiing and mountain biking organizations (the bikers want to use the new ski lift and runs for high speed down-hilling in the summer), and Wausau area business people, spoke in support of a “modest” expansion of an additional 25 acres or so adjoining Granite Peak’s present lease on the west. That was a totally new proposal. After all speakers were finished, board member Fred Prehn introduced an amendment to the master plan which coincided with the “modest proposal” of the skiing/biking speakers. He had prepared the amendment before the meeting. The amendment detailed a 28-acre expansion of Granite Peak’s lease area to the west, and included a map showing the boundaries of the new lease area, the course of the new ski runs, and the path of the new ski lift. The DNR planning chief told the board that the environmental impacts of such an expansion were not covered by the DNR’s environmental analysis. Nevertheless, the board voted to approve the amendment. The board’s discussion indicated that some members hoped environmental concerns might be addressed in the terms of the lease.
In fact, construction of what Granite Peak wants will devastate this beautiful part of the park, regardless of lease details. Granite Peak’s representatives argued that this expansion will somehow bring in more customers than would have come to Granite Peak anyway. The pro-expansion speakers argued Granite Peak’s case for building the new runs and lift. Opponents of the expansion, who believe that this special part of the state park must be protected, should also be heard. The park itself should be given the benefit of an environmental analysis.
Wisconsin’s Administrative Code, section NR 44.04(7)(a), states, “The public shall be provided opportunities to participate throughout the planning process for a property.” NR 150.04(2)(g), requires an environmental analysis and consideration of public comment for significant changes in the use of state property. A full hearing on this significant change in the park is basic fairness, and is required by the Wisconsin Administrative Code. Please urge the Natural Resources Board to reconsider the amendment, and expansion of the ski area to the west, by contacting them at dnrnrbliaison@Wisconsin.gov.
Dan Graff of Kronenwetter
Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly publishes commentary from readers, residents and candidates for local offices. The views of readers and columnists are independent of this newspaper and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wausau Pilot & Review. To submit, email email@example.com or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.