Our View: MacArthur's battle

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The Routt County Planning Commission's decision to allow a freestyle skiing and snowboarding training facility at Ed MacArthur's water ski lake east of the city was a great thing for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

Hopefully, it also was the first step in finally getting something done with the rest of MacArthur's 90-acre property.

MacArthur's generosity is to be applauded. He donated time, material and labor -- not to mention the site -- to construct the ski jump. He is leasing the facility to the Winter Sports Club for $1 per year.

The jump is the only one of its kind in the state, and Sarah Floyd, director of athletics at the Winter Sports Club, said not only will Winter Sports Club athletes use the facility but athletes from other clubs likely will train there, also. "This is huge," Floyd said. "For the future of freestyle and snowboard athletics, there is a need for a year-round facility to train on. This gives us that. It's a wonderful, wonderful thing."

But as wonderful as the facility is, it's not a long-term solution to the property, which is an eyesore on the gateway into the city. Three mounds of gravel have been sitting there for years, the end result of a sometimes bitter battle of wills among MacArthur, the city and the county.

MacArthur originally proposed a 93-acre residential development at the site in 1997. Yampa Meadows was to include a 16-acre ski lake surrounded by homes and was to be annexed into the city limits. But in the spring of 1997, after months of work and significant investment by developers, the City Council pulled the plug on the development, citing flooding concerns.

MacArthur responded by moving ahead with plans to dig the ski lake anyway. He began digging in 1999, and wanted to take the resulting gravel off site for use in construction projects. The county saw MacArthur's move as the equivalent of operating a gravel mine without a permit and issued a cease and desist order on the third day of digging.

Recognizing that he could still dig as long as he didn't use the resulting material, MacArthur finished the lake and piled the gravel on the site. The property hasn't changed since.

Now, MacArthur is discussing new plans for the site with the city. Those plans could include affordable housing, a trail system and a city park. He also wants to mine gravel at the site. Original issues at the property have been put to rest or can be mitigated. Noise from water ski boats has never been a problem. The Division of Wildlife has offered mitigation plans for a pair of nesting bald eagles in the vicinity. And flooding at the site can be addressed as the recently approved Riverplace project west of MacArthur's property demonstrates.

MacArthur said he has about a seven-year plan for the site, including the mining of gravel. No doubt, getting a gravel pit approved there will be a difficult process.

Still almost anything would be an improvement.

In the past, the county, city and MacArthur dug in their heels on what should be done with the property. The end result was good for no one, particularly those who have driven by the gravel piles the past several years.

With plans again being developed for the property, now is the time to set that history -- along with the egos involved -- aside and find a reasonable solution for the land. That, even more than a Winter Sports Club training facility, would be a true benefit to the community.

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