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Montana resort proposal rejected

Associated Press

The U.S. Forest Service has rejected a plan for a proposed resort just south of Missoula, but the developers say they are undeterred and will revise their proposal to the agency’s satisfaction.

The plan for Bitterroot Resort is unacceptable because of potential effects on wildlife, soil, water and scenery, the Forest Service said. Officials said that they will not consider the existing proposal further but that the developers may redo it or submit a new plan for review.

“We intend to come back -- and come back with a style of recreation that is compatible,” Jim Gill, the chief operating officer for Bitterroot Resort, said last week.

Tom Maclay would like to develop the resort on his family’s ranch. He has said that he envisions a world-class resort with recreation, lodging, shopping and dining on the ranchland, just off U.S. 93, plus skiing and mountain biking on Forest Service land nearby.

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The plan submitted to the Forest Service in March laid out specifics for Nordic skiing and for guided alpine skiing through trees on the federal land, along with summer cycling.

Overall, the resort would involve just over 2,000 acres of public land and just under 3,000 acres of private ranch property, Gill said.

Consultants will advise the developers on how best to address Forest Service concerns, he said. Gill said he did not know how much time would be needed to submit a revised plan.

Wildlife issues included disruption of a winter range used by elk and the risk that groomed Nordic trails would increase predators’ access to lynx, said Forest Service Ranger Dan Ritter. He also said the proposal called for trails over areas with heightened risk of sliding soil, which could increase sediment in water. The concern about scenery stemmed from the resort’s proposal to thin trees for alpine skiing.

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The setback from the Forest Service is not the resort’s first.

The agency found in 2005 that the proposed development of a downhill ski area on Lolo Peak clashed with management plans for the Bitterroot and Lolo national forests. The resort plan was changed as a result of that finding.

A Forest Service report in 2006 cast doubt on the need for a ski area, but the resort released its own study finding sufficient consumer demand.

Maclay already offers alpine skiing on his ranch, although there are no lifts. Skiers travel uphill in a snowcat, an enclosed vehicle that moves on tracks like a snowmobile.

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