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Friday, July 19, 2024

Tipton to Tidwell: Permit Process “Not Even Handed”

Tells Forest Service Chief that enforcement of new water clause could result in job losses at Powderhorn and other ski areas

Washington, DC—In an effort to protect jobs and private water rights at Powderhorn and other ski areas, Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) today urged U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to return to the use of the 2004 water clause and allow for adjustments moving forward.

Earlier this month, Tipton participated in a Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands oversight hearing on “Forest Service Regulatory Roadblocks to Productive Land Use and Recreation: Proposed Planning Rule, Special-use Permits, and Travel Management.” This hearing further examined the Forest Service’s proposal which could threaten deference to state water law and infringe upon private property rights.

It was brought to light during the hearing that the Forest Service is already enforcing the permit requirement despite the fact that it has yet to be officially implemented. Glenn Porzak, of the National Ski Areas Association, told the committee that the Forest Service required the developers of the Powderhorn ski area (just outside of Grand Junction) to agree to the terms of the permit requirement regardless of future Congressional or court action on it.

During the hearing, Porzack explained the significance of privately held water rights to local communities: “Water rights are important to Colorado and many businesses depend on them as collateral to get loans, expand, and create jobs. This permit requirement is wrong and has no legal legs to stand on.”

Tipton wrote in the letter to Tidwell:

You expressed that there was urgency to finalize the interim directive so that the Powderhorn ski area which had recently changed hands would be able to reissue their permit under the new conditions. The new water clause would revive old water clauses and make Powderhorn subject to the requirements of the permits of previous holders which are decades old. Powderhorn and other resorts held to the new permit conditions entered into their special use permits with no notice that they would be subject to the requirements of previous holders’ permits and were not given a chance to negotiate those terms. This process is not even handed and could result in a loss of financing for maintenance and development as well as subsequent job losses.

Powderhorn ski area was forced to sign the special use permit in order to be allowed to move forward with preparations for the ski area opening. It was also forced by the Forest Service to sign a letter acknowledging that it was not reserving any rights regarding the validity of the permit or conditioning its acceptance of the permit conditions, including those that require the relinquishment of water rights. As the Powderhorn ski area faces the implementation of their special use permit, I urge the Forest Service to return to the use of the 2004 water clause and allow for adjustments moving forward based on an agreement between the permit holder and the Forest Service to reflect final language in the clause following further collaboration.

Tipton closed by calling for cooperation from the Forest Service, writing, “Powderhorn is poised to begin its season and help provide much needed jobs to the area and stimulate the local economy. It is critical that they have a willing partner in the Forest Service moving forward to accomplish these goals.”

See the full letter here.

Additional Background

In October, Tipton sent a letter to the Secretary Tom Vilsack urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reconsider implementing a permit condition to require the transfer of privately held water rights to the federal government as a permit condition on National Forest System lands. Tipton expressed concern over the impact the requirement would have on water rights held by ski areas and ranchers in particular. See the letter here.


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