A Sierra Nevada land swap that would add 1,317 acres to three national forests in exchange for about 30 acres serving the prominent Mammoth Mountain ski resort is nearer completion.
After maneuvering that dates at least to 2011, the Forest Service on Friday pushed ahead with the proposal involving the Stanislaus, Plumas and Inyo national forests. Supporters call it a win-win proposition.
“This has been a long time in the making,” John Wentworth, mayor pro tem of the town of Mammoth Lakes, said in an interview Friday. “I definitely support it, and I am very interested to understand what the next step is.”
The swap must still survive scrutiny, starting with a 45-day public comment period and a hearing Sept. 8 in Mammoth Lakes. Already, though some residents of nearby June Lake have raised concerns, the proposal has cleared political hurdles that exemplify how Washington works.
To navigate a deeply partisan Congress, the land-swap proponents got companion bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate introduced by the local congressman, Republican Rep. Paul Cook of Apple Valley, as well as by California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area executives in 2014 made $13,700 in campaign contributions to Cook, Feinstein and two other lawmakers, and the company has retained several lobbying firms on multiple issues. In 2014, the year Congress passed the land-swap legislation, the ski resort paid D.C.-based lobbyists $80,000, records show.
With Congress frequently gridlocked, the small land-swap bill eventually slid onto an unrelated 698-page defense authorization bill signed by President Barack Obama in December 2014.
The swap is supposed to help national forest managers by eliminating private holdings on the public lands while giving the Mammoth Mountain resort outright ownership of land it currently leases and where it operates visitor facilities.
“This is about jobs,” Cook, a member of the defense-bill-writing House Armed Services Committee, said when Obama signed the bill, adding that “the land exchange will allow Mammoth Mountain to start construction, creating jobs to rebuild the Mammoth Mountain Inn.”
The then-chairman of the Armed Services Committee, former Republican Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon of Santa Clarita, was likewise a Mammoth Mountain ally, having formerly represented the area.
Under the swap spelled out Friday by the Forest Service in the Federal Register, the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area would gain two parcels totaling 30.6 acres. The parcels include a currently leased, built-out tract containing lodging and visitor facilities, and an adjacent tract containing sewage ponds.
“The federal parcels are an island of intensely developed urban landscape retaining few natural characteristics and features consistent with its status as (Forest Service) lands,” the agency said.
In exchange, the Forest Service would collect 12 parcels that include four within the Stanislaus National Forest. These latter parcels total 920 acres in the Clavey River watershed near Yosemite National Park.
“All four parcels contain either frontage on a perennial stream or headwaters areas for a perennial stream and all four eliminate islands of private lands in the Stanislaus National Forest,” the Forest Service noted.
Because the developed ski resort land is worth more than the remote forest lands, Congress authorized the Forest Service to receive an additional “cash equalization payment” that’s expected to amount to several million dollars, according to the Congressional Budget Office.