Last gasp for June Lake residents opposed to land trade process

Supervisors revise letter of support for land trade, approve it unanimously

The members of June Lake’s Committee for a Viable June Lake were relatively sure this week that their last try to get the county supervisors to hold off on supporting a land trade bill for Mammoth Mountain Ski Area wouldn’t work—and they were right.

Despite some stated reservations about the trustworthiness of Mammoth Mountain and its chief executive, Rusty Gregory, the county’s five supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to send a letter in support of the land trade to Congress.

Two weeks ago, the supervisors had also given the land trade their support, with the intent of bringing a slightly revised letter back to the board Tuesday for a final vote.

The hope, the supervisors said, is that the letter of support will jump start a land trade process mired in controversy these past few months.

The two members of the committee that attended the Tuesday meeting in Bridgeport did not buy the arguments.

“Most important of all, Mr. Gregory got you to write a new, better letter, one that is more to his liking, one that now makes absolutely no mention of June Mountain ... the one you will approve today,” Alice Suszynski said to the supervisors, reading from a prepared letter.

“What we have learned is that this is all about money and power. Everyone (except our committee) is in it for their own enrichment.”

Patti Heinrich, another member of the committee, said what she and other committee members really wanted was more time to verify that Mammoth Mountain would honor previous promises to re-open June Mountain Ski Area this winter and to invest in the ski area in the coming years.

Gregory has said in previous meetings he would begin the process of getting permits for a new lift and snowmaking for June Mountain early next year and the committee members asked why not wait that long before supporting the bill?

“The reason I want this timeline is that like everything else in the country, people are not being held accountable for what they are saying, ” said Heinrich.

“I feel we really need to hold him to these statements.”

“The main objective was to [open] June Mountain,” said Supervisor Larry Johnston. “Closure is not an option. Right now, from what I can tell, from the information I get from different sources, they are going to open June Mountain. They are doing everything for lift operation, run improvements, and [formed] a new management team.”

He said he was holding to a “wait and see” stance on the rest of Mammoth Mountain’s promises regarding June Mountain and the land trade’s supposed benefits.

“I’m not at all convinced that J1 (a high speed lift Gregory has promised for June Mountain in the next few years) will be made, or that snowmaking will be applied, I’m not convinced of that,” Johnston said. “They are still on the watch block as far as that. Someone told me, ‘Watch what Rusty does, not what he says,’ and we will be watching that closely. I don’t buy into this that just with this support, we will get all this economic benefit. What I am going by is the land trade is needed to make improvement to the (Mammoth Mountain) Inn and Mountain.”

Johnston also noted that even if there was a document of the Mountain’s promises, it would still not be binding.

Supervisor Fred Stump and other supervisors also told the committee members that they would be monitoring Mammoth Mountain’s actions regarding June Mountain.

They noted that the county’s new County Administrative Officer, Jim Leddy, met with Gregory last week and said the county would continue to make sure there was consistent communication between the two entities, including possibly reviving a county/Mammoth Mountain liaison process.

If promises made were broken, they said, they could pull back on their support for the land trade.

Mammoth Mountain Ski Area’s chief administrative officer, Ron Cohen, attended the meeting and spoke to the supervisors from Mammoth via videoconference equipment.

“I just couldn’t stay quiet,” he said, “There has been a lot said … on the trust issue, a lot’s been thrown around here.”

Cohen reminded the supervisors and the audience about a forest service audit of Mammoth Mountain’s finances that he said proved the Mountain had to close for all the reasons Gregory laid out last year.

“Let’s not forget that the reasons we gave to close (June Mountain), the reasons were reviewed by the forest service auditor, and the clear conclusion was that the documents (audit) backed (us) up,” he said, noting that there were several other times during the Tuesday meeting when generalized statements about reasons for distrusting Gregory and Mammoth Mountain would not stand up to a factual investigation.