Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Snowmaking on Rotarun? Not yet

Water rights dispute delays project

Express Staff Writer

The Rotarun Ski Club is continuing its fundraising efforts, as approximately $250,000 is needed to install a new chair lift and base lodge. The Sun Valley Co. donated the old Dollar and Quarter Dollar lifts, except for the towers, which would be combined to create one lift to take skiers to the top of Rotarun. This will replace the Dopplemyer Poma lift that has been used since 1998. Photo by Mountain Express

After raising approximately $250,000 since June, the Rotarun Ski Club had high hopes that skiers would be able to benefit this winter from the installation of six snowmaking guns.

However, this improvement, which is the major piece of the club's "Bringing Rotarun into the 21st Century" campaign, has been pushed back until the spring of next year at the earliest, as a result of a dispute with neighboring homeowners over water rights.

"From the beginning, our No. 1 goal has been to establish snowmaking at Rotarun so that we can always guarantee snow for our programs," stated Rotarun Board President Jeff Smith in a press release on Nov. 28. "Water rights have been filed, plans have been reviewed, and contractors are ready to go."

The work on the ski area located three miles west of Hailey in Croy Canyon will have to wait until the water issue is resolved with the Sage Springs Homeowners Association.

Attorney Fritz Haemmerle, vice president of the ski club and representing it on this issue, said that the ski club had been issued the rights to a domestic well in order to provide the water necessary for making snow.

"We're disappointed that Sage Springs is contesting the issuance of a single domestic well," Haemmerle said, adding that homeowners of the nearby subdivision, which was created in the early 1990s, were put on notice that snowmaking was a possibility.

Brian Opp, president of the Sage Springs Homeowners Association, said that it's a legal question of whether or not Rotarun should be allowed to receive a permit for a domestic well rather than a commercial one.

"If someone is going to do something in your neighborhood, you have all the right in the world to make sure it's legal," Opp said, explaining that currently both the ski area and the Sage Springs homes share a communal well. "Many of the members would like the improvements, but we don't want to put the well in jeopardy."

Opp said that he moved to Sage Springs, a subdivision of approximately 10 homes and twice as many lots, because of the proximity to the ski hill.

"Personally, I'm all for Rotarun as a ski hill. I have three kids and would rather they ski here than have to bus them up to Sun Valley," Opp said in an interview. "However, we just want the improvements to be done in a manner that is clean, safe, courteous, and legal."

Opp said that the association has appealed the issuance of the residential water permit and that the matter is currently under review with the Idaho Department of Water Resources. He said that the decision could take into account the 13,000-gallon-per-day limit for domestic use and the proximity to the existing well.

Allen Merritt, southern region manager of the Department of Water Resources, said a permit has been issued to Rotarun to allow the drilling of a domestic well, but that the concerns of the neighboring homeowners were taken into account.

"We issued a preliminary order as it was clear this would be a contested case," Merritt said. "It will probably go to a formal hearing."

Merritt did not venture a guess as to how long this process might take, but for the ski club, time remains an issue.

"We hope to get this resolved as promptly as possible, Haemmerle said, adding that the ski club also needs to bring its master plan before the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission as a result of its location in a recreation district.

While this issue lingers, the ski club is continuing its fundraising efforts, hoping to raise another $250,000 to complete two other significant improvements in the form of a new base lodge and a new chair lift.

The ski club has already received significant help toward those goals, after Sun Valley Co. donated the old Dollar and Quarter Dollar lifts, except for the towers, which would be combined to create one lift to take skiers to the top of Rotarun. As well, the developer of the property where the Sun Valley Helicopter Ski Guides building sits on First Avenue in Ketchum has committed to donating the costs of moving the building to the base of Rotarun.

Sarah Busdon, secretary for the ski club, said that the fundraising will take place during the course of the winter, as there is an April 2008 deadline for moving the potential lodge, as this is when the developers plan to begin work on the new Heli-Ski building.

"We're working on a letter for current and potential supporters," Busdon said. "And hopefully we'll have an event this winter at Rotarun, but nothing has been planned as of yet."

The operation of the ski hill, run by the nonprofit ski club, has long been dependent on philanthropy, as the Arkoosh family of Gooding gave Rotarun a 99-year lease on the land for $1 a year. In 1993, the property was deeded to Blaine County, with the original lease and mineral rights owned by Rotarun.

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