Court Decision- NEPA for Ski Master Development Plan

Pp 10-12 of this Ark Initiative vs. Forest Service decision deal with the “NEPA for master development plan” question. It also has a good discussion of a variety of NEPA issues and the detailed discussion of the FS approach and why the judge found it was OK. Sometimes on this blog we talk about “if the FS followed the law there would be no problem” but people can disagree on not so much the concept, but the details of following the law, especially NEPA.

Here’s a quote:

The Forest Service’s acceptance of the conceptual 2003 MPA does not meet these
criteria. The 2003 MPA merely discloses Aspen Skiing’s goals and objectives, AR
5748-50, the existing conditions, AR 5762-76, and Aspen Skiing’s desired future
conditions, AR 5778-96. The Forest Service expressly noted that the acceptance of the
2003 MPA “in no way guarantees that all elements represented here will be completed at
any time in the future.” AR 5751. Nor does the agency’s acceptance mean that all of the
elements described in the 2003 MPA will be approved in the future, that the Forest Service has completed its environmental review of elements described in the 2003 MPA, or that the Forest Service completely agrees with Aspen Skiing on all of the listed actions. AR 5898-99. Instead, the Forest Service accepted the 2003 MPA as a guiding document for Aspen Skiing’s future development of the Snowmass Ski Area that would help the agency understand Aspen Skiing’s vision for the ski area and evaluate future connected actions when analyzing site-specific projects. AR 5899. Accordingly, it is not a “definitive statement of [the Forest Service’s] position determining the rights and obligations” of Aspen Skiing or other parties. More decisions remain to be made, depending on what Aspen Skiing actually proposes and the further required NEPA analysis, which means that it is not the consummation of the agency’s decision-making process. Thus, the acceptance of the 2003 MPA is not a final agency action.

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