There’s only room for two in the ongoing June Mountain boxing match.
Mono County found neither precedent nor legal language it can use to put pressure on Mammoth Mountain Ski Area to keep June Mountain Ski Area open this winter. The special use permit MMSA operates under gives almost all of the discretionary power with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service.
In addition, MMSA does not believe it is out of compliance with its special use permit with the Inyo National Forest.
These two realities will shape the relationship between all three entities as they seek a solution to the JMSA closure.
At Tuesday’s Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting, county head attorney Marshall Rudolph said a several-week review of the county’s legal options in regards to helping keep the ski area open came up short on answers.
Rudolph said he had poured through documents and looked at applicable laws and found little to nothing that showed a path of legal involvement for the county in such a situation.
To make things even less clear, the special use permit allows much room for interpretation.
“It is a contract, that much I believe,” Rudolph said. “But we don’t have standing in this. It is just between MMSA and the forest service.”
The permit does require certain standards of safety and sanitation be met at all times, but it is far less detailed on other issues, he said.
Applicable federal law allows the operator opportunity to appeal any decision made by the forest service, he said.
The situation means some delicate negotiations ahead for the forest.
Inyo National Forest Mammoth District Ranger Jon Reggelbrugge confirmed this week that the forest service believes MMSA is out of compliance regarding the ski area special use permit. The public also discovered this week that MMSA believes it is not.
“They have told us that they believe they are not out of compliance now because they are not in normal operating season and will not be until the snow comes,” Reggelbrugge said.
But the forest service sees it differently.
“They have said they are not going to operate this winter and we are taking them at their word,” he said.
“To us, it’s something like what (Marshall) Rudolph calls an ‘anticipatory breach of a contract.’ That’s our take.”
He said the forest is “proceeding carefully” and has not yet sent a letter of non compliance.
“We want to do a careful review with our legal counsel to be sure we are on track,” he said. “We do expect MMSA to use their appeal rights.”
The forest service is in a fairly unique situation, historically, with the June Mountain/MMSA issue, he said.
“Usually, when these things happen, it’s a relatively small operator running a relatively small ski area, and the operator is facing bankruptcy or other serious financial difficulties. But in this case, this is a fairly large corporation running another successful ski area. This is a very different situation.”