June 10, 2021

Ski area fee retention legislation ‘moving fast,’ seeing bipartisan support

SHRED Act part of a portfolio of efforts related to public lands

The SHRED Act appears to be aptly named. It made a rapid run through a U.S. House subcommittee hearing Tuesday and is primed for a full send in Congress.

And Rep. Joe Neguse says if the conditions are right, he’ll have the act at apres by the end of summer.

Short for Ski Hill Resources for Economic Development, Neguse said the SHRED Act is a response to the permitting needs and backlog that exists for improvement projects in the White River National Forest.

“For White River National Forest which has, year after year, been the most highly visited National Forest in the United States, the volume of requests from various ski areas, with respect to potential improvements to their operations, and to the forest more broadly, obviously creates a circumstance in which there’s a backlog,” Neguse said. “And the idea would be, by bringing back some of these fees to Colorado, you could, in effect, enable those projects to be considered more quickly.”

Neguse represents Vail and parts of Eagle County in the U.S. House of Representatives. Earlier this year, he was named chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. As chair, Neguse set his sights on an agenda he calls “Restoring our lands and communities,” which he describes as a portfolio of efforts related to public lands that he hopes to enact as chair of the subcommittee.

In addition to the SHRED Act, the portfolio also includes the 21st Century Conservation Corps Act, a New Deal-inspired effort to put more Americans to work in the field of natural resource management; the CORE Act, a Colorado-based effort to create 73,000 acres of new wilderness and nearly 80,000 acres of new recreation and conservation management areas; the SOAR Act, which stands for simplifying outdoor access for recreation and aims to create an easier-to-use permitting process for guides, educational organizations and nonprofits; and the MAPLand Act, which would direct federal land management agencies to digitize and standardize mapping records.

Ski area involvement

Neguse says much of the portfolio was developed after meeting with stakeholder groups in Eagle and Summit counties.

The ski industry was heavily involved in the process, Neguse said, and the concerns of ski industry groups are reflected in the policy, especially the SHRED Act. If passed, the SHRED Act would establish a ski area fee retention account to retain a portion of the fees that a ski area pays to the Forest Service.

“It’s something that we have heard from the local stakeholders in Summit County quite a bit about, over the last several years, as well as from the ski areas, there’s been an effort over a long period of time to take steps to keep ski fees local, essentially enabling the ski fee retention account to retain a portion of those fees that ski areas pay to the forest service,” Neguse said. “Because if you do that, you can better support winter recreation, because you allow those funds to support the Forest Service ski area program and permitting needs and the real backlog that exists in the Forest Service today, notwithstanding the incredible work that’s done by forest service officials on the ground.”

In recent years, expansion efforts have been approved at the ski areas of Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Sunlight and Ski Cooper, all of which operate within the White River National Forest.

In an interview with The Aspen Times, White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said there have been years when so many capital improvement projects were proposed by the ski industry that his staff could not review them concurrently.

“We couldn’t handle all the projects they had,” Fitzwilliams said.

Neguse, on Tuesday, told the Vail Daily his legislation is intended to address those concerns.

“In effect, we’re working to try to deliver more resources to Mr. Fitzwilliams and his team, so that they can expend those dollars and those resources in the same way they are doing today,” Neguse said.

Fitzwilliams said the additional funds could help his team review ski area proposals more efficiently, without shortchanging the National Environmental Policy Act process or pubic involvement.

“This is not affecting the ability the Forest Service has to approve or deny various project submissions, that is a decision that rests with the forest service requirements and all of the various NEPA requirements,” Neguse said.

Bipartisan support

Several elements of Neguse’s Restoring Our Lands and Communities portfolio have received support among Republicans, something Neguse says will prove helpful as the various acts within the portfolio head to Congress.

Rep. Russ Fulcher, a Republican from Idaho, likes the MAPLand Act for its ability to help “Sportsmen and outdoor recreationalists,” he said, by modernizing “information and access to our public lands so that those in Idaho, Utah, and around the country can better utilize these public places.”

Rep. Blake Moore, a Republican from Utah, said each year, millions of Americans venture into the great outdoors without having the most up-to-date data on land access.

“The MAPLand Act would address this by digitizing tens of thousands of records to ensure that fishers, hikers, bikers, hunters, and all who seek to enjoy our federal lands have access to the information they need to fully experience our country’s natural wonders,” Moore said.

Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, said he supports the SHRED Act as the “resorts in the Jackson area and across the state are critical to our economy,” he said. “Right now, Wyoming ski communities are sending money to Washington but not receiving the full benefits from those fees. … By creating a specific dedicated account for these fees, Wyoming skiing communities will get more bang for their buck. They will be able to provide an even better experience for visitors by improving their facilities, protecting the forests and supporting the local economy.”

Neguse said the SHRED Act on Tuesday cleared the subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands with minimal issues.

“It went really well, and I think, obviously, there’s bipartisan support for the legislation,” Neguse told the Vail Daily on Wednesday. “So I am hopeful that we will mark up the bill – go through the amendment process – next month, and then from there get it to the floor shortly thereafter. It’s moving very, very fast. It’s a priority for us and we’re going to continue to push.”

By:  John LaConte
Source: Vail Daily