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Mammoth Mountain land swap may be at risk

August 17, 2012

The future of a land trade that Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is pursuing for land at the base of Main Lodge may be at risk, according to Mono County Supervisor Vikki Bauer.

A proposed land trade with the U.S. Forest Service for the parcel of federal land needs the approval of Congress, since the forest service does not have enough land to trade to match the value of the property, she said. Congress must get involved when it takes a certain amount of cash to make up the difference in value and land available.

Legislation was sponsored by Mono County’s representative (until redistricting changes force him out of the district next year), Buck McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), and passed the House of Representatives in April. But Bauer believes Mammoth Mountain will have much harder time getting the Senate to pass the bill, called H.R. 2157, after MMSA took June Mountain off operation.

“Tim Alpers and I both spoke with Dianne Feinstein and Barbra Boxer’s office and we heard they expressed concerns because of this,” Bauer said. Mammoth Mountain would need at least one U.S. Senator to sponsor the bill through the Senate.

The issue, according to Bauer, is that even as MMSA tries to do a land trade with the forest service, its facing an upcoming “letter of non compliance” regarding not operating the land June Mountain sits on as a ski resort.

The other issue is McKeon himself.

In recent years, according to the L.A. Times, McKeon has been investigated by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee over allegations that a loan he received from the now-defunct Countrywide Financial mortgage company (whose massive collapse was instrumental in the housing market collapse in 2008), gave McKeon a preferential rate in exchange for donations to his race.

That investigation was completed this year and, according to an article by the Huffington Post, dated July 10, and an earlier article in the L.A. Times ("Details Emerge on Buck McKeon's Countrywide Loan", Feb. 12, 2012), McKeon and another small group of lawmakers did get personal attention from the CEO of Countrywide, Angelo Mozillo, “as past of a wide-ranging lobbying effort by the company.”

McKeon denies that he knew he was getting “VIP treatment,” according to the article.

Rusty Gregory, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area CEO, said the land trade is unlikely this year—but not for either of the reasons Bauer noted above. “I’m not aware that the land trade is at risk for either of those reasons,” he said. “In my conversations with Boxer and Feinstein’s offices, I’ve been told it is unlikely that the land trade could get through the Senate this year due to the election year backlog, and due to the fact that the head of the resources committee was not re-elected. It looks likely that we will have to start the whole process over again next year.”

He said he is “only distantly aware” of the problems McKeon is facing and said he only knows McKeon as “a fine man and a great friend to Mammoth.”

Calls to McKeon, Boxer, and Feinstein were not returned before press time.

Note: In the print edition of this Mammoth Times story, released on Aug. 17, 2012, the story states that the House Ethics Committee investigated McKeon for possible preferential treatment by Countrywide Financial. It was the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that did the investigation, according to a Huffington Post July 10, 2012 story titled "Buck McKeon Under Fire for Loan from Countrywide." Also, in the print edition, the article states that McKeon is a "former" Representive for Mono County. McKeon will be the representive for Mono County for the rest of the year, until redistricting forces him out of the district. The Mammoth Times regrets the errors.

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