Steamboat Springs City Council scrutinizes Emerald contract

Members seek more precise language for park fees, expenditures, board member process

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— Before it’s ready to close on the purchase of the 586-acre Lyman Orton parcel, the Steamboat Springs City Coun­­cil is seeking more clarity in its future working relationship with the nonprofit that would manage it.

The purchase price of the land is $1.3 million, and the city is pursuing a $600,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado to help cover the cost.

City Attorney Tony Lettunich said the terms of purchase contract specify that the deal cannot close until the management contract is in place.

Council kicked the draft of a management contract with the Howel­­sen Emerald Mountain Park group back to lawyers this week and asked for more precise language on terms that would cover issues such as fees that might be imposed on the public in the future, who makes the decision about the expenditure of operational funds raised by the group, who would appoint members to the group’s board and how either entity might break up the relationship.

Steamboat Springs City Coun­­­­cil President Cari Herma­cin­­ski, the lone dissenter in an Oct. 19 vote to approve a purchase contract for the parcel, said the language was too vague with regard to how much money the Howelsen Emerald Mountain Park group plans to invest in the parcel and what, if any, plans there are to charge fees in the future.

“I think it needs significant tightening, and I think it needs to be written on behalf of the community because it’s the community that’s spending tax dollars to purchase it,” Herma­cinski said.

She especially was dissatisfied with the language in a clause that would allow either side to break off the contract with six months’ notice. She felt the single sentence in the management agreement devoted to dissolution — “either party may terminate this agreement with six months advance notice to the other party” — was too sparse and did not provide the city with enough conditions on which to base termination.

“I think it’s very weak termination language,” Hermacinski said. “It’s the catch-all if anything goes wrong. I feel like I could litigate this for a lifetime. Until it’s improved, I would not support it.”

Dan Smilkstein, president of the group, said he and the group’s attorney, Sherri Sweers, were appearing before City Council to offer them assurances.

“The (six) members of the board have 130 years of residency and a track record of public service, volunteerism and creating recreational and business opportunities,” Smilkstein said. “The impression that it’s a secretive society, that will no longer be the case.”

Parks, Open Space and Rec­reational Services Director “Chris Wil­­son has been involved with almost every single meeting we’ve had with (Howel­­sen Emerald Moun­­tain Park). We want to take the work off of city staff’s shoulders,” Smilk­­stein said

In addition to Sweers and Smilk­­stein, who also serves on the Steam­boat Springs Nordic Council, other board members include former City Council member and Cham­­ber President Julie Green, businessman John Beaupre and Steam­boat Ski Touring Center operator Bir­­gitta Lindgren.

Wilson, along with Tammie Adams, City open space supervisor Craig Robinson, Orton and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps Executive Director Gretchen Van De Carr are listed as advisory board members.

Councilman Jon Quinn urged Smilkstein to consider not counting Orton among its advisory board because his role as the selling landowner might be a sticking point for GOCo as it considers approving a $600,000 grant to help fund the purchase.

“For the sake of having as clean a contract as possible for GOCo, I think Mr. Orton should be removed from the board of directors.”

Hermacinski agreed, “I think Jon’s comments are appropriate. At the end of the day, it should be City Council that makes decisions, not a small, self-perpetuating group that includes the (former) owner.”

Sweers said after the meeting that Orton recused himself from full membership of the board in 2008, when Howelsen Emer­­ald Mountain Park formally achieved 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit.

In response to a question from City Council member Wal­ter Ma­­g­­ill, Smilkstein said that should the GOCo grant be approved and the sale close, the first order of business for the group will be a deliberate planning process. The first evidence of trail construction would be bicycle trails because designing singletrack isn’t as complex as skate skiing trails. The latter demand more consideration of slope gradient and require more room because they must be the width of large grooming machines, Smilkstein said.

He added that ultimately, the goal is to build 30 kilometers of Nordic trails.

Comments

Fred Duckels 4 years, 1 month ago

I don't know anythig about this venture but it seems that we are forever needing to spend money in order to take advantage of grants. How much bargain hunting can we afford?

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 1 month ago

Well, seems to me that you will not be asked to pay ongoing costs of adding trails and such to this parcel because the Howel­­sen Emerald Mountain Park wants to manage it.

But, the City Council doesn't want to trust them to operate it and instead wants the City to be involved. That's what we get from big government liberals like Cari.

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John Fielding 4 years, 1 month ago

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The call for more detail and binding language in the contract is very important, kudos to Cari for recognizing that lack. It is exactly the sort of agreement that could have the City become responsible for many costs from liability insurance to trail construction and maintenance if the non profit managing entity was not able to raise sufficient funds to cover its commitments.

Even with the additional clarifications, it is not yet clear how much the city will have to spend on costs of ownership. The question of fees must also be addressed, if money is raised thus will it only be for maintenance, or can it help defray the cost of acquisition? If a well planned and executed operation in an attractive and convenient location can actually attract paying customers, is it not then competing with private venues?

One could make the case that public lands leased to Skicorp for similar use establishes a reasonable precedent for an arrangement like this. But the city is not the federal government which acquired the lands by conquest and occupation. If the fed had had to buy the National Forest it would not be public property today. The city cannot afford thousands of acres of parkland.

Perhaps the city could somehow act as a facilitator for the land to be bought into semi-private ownership, letting the HEMP become owners over a 30 or 40 year term, or longer if needed.

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