MAT-SU—Next week kicks off the formal process for the Environmental Impact Statement for the Hatcher Pass Ski & Recreation area. The public is invited to comment on and learn about the project on Thursday, Dec. 11, at Colony Middle School from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly Member Rob Wells has been supporting the idea of a ski area at Hatcher Pass since 1983. "We've gone through iterations over the years," Assembly Member Wells told the Palmer Chamber of Commerce today. "Now the project is back to the original idea: a community ski area for MAT-SU residents and the region."
The main features proposed in Phase 1 of the project include two chair lifts, a day lodge with snow sports school, rental equipment, night-lighting, and snowmaking on the northern Alpine side. On the southern Nordic side: 10 kilometers of competition trails, 10 kilometers of recreational trails, road access and parking.
The Assembly adopted the project concept contained in “Hatcher Pass – A New Beginning” in September.
"16 Mile will not go away," Wells said of a popular ski and snowboard trail that often requires hitchhiking in a vehicle to repeat the run. "But if you want groomed trails, avalanche safety, ski patrol, lots of vertical feet per day, you'll probably be on the lifts," said Wells.
Phase 1 is a $24.8 million project. The Borough has received some $5.6 million in federal funds for roads, parking, trails, transit facilities for MASCOT service, and the environmental study, which reduces the overall project cost to about $19 million.
The Borough hired contractor DOWL HKM to manage the EIS process. DOWL HKM will give an overview presentation at 6 p.m. and another one at 7 p.m. next Thursday. After each presentation there will be an opportunity for questions and answers.
Some field work began last summer on 11,000 acres in the Talkeetna Mountains and foothills. The Borough owns 3,000 acres and has management authority on the remaining land. The work includes: wetland delineations, vegetation mapping, habitat mapping, fish and aquatic surveys, an eagle nest survey, and a cultural resources survey.
The environmental study could take a year to complete. During that time the Borough is researching ways to fund the project. The Borough remains committed to the operations being run by an entity other than the Borough, possibly like other regional ski areas with a 501(c)3, non-profit, board of directors or some other proven model.
Wells pointed to Hilltop Ski Area in Anchorage as a prime example of similar ownership and management.
An economic study indicates that on a typical weekend some 700 to 1,500 skiers per day would ride the lifts at Hatcher Pass. No firm numbers have been estimated yet for the Nordic ski area.
"A lot of progress has taken place at Hatcher," Wells said. "We have electricity, a paved road, ski trails mapped out by Olympic Nordic skier Bill Spencer, a parking lot, and ample water sources for snow making."
Assembly Member Lynne Woods said the time is right. "Hatcher Pass has many recreation and economic opportunities for residents of MAT-SU. It is time the infrastructure be developed to open those doors of opportunity," Woods said.
The ski area could provide a substantial economic development opportunity to the Borough by bringing new jobs, a new industry and infrastructure improvements that could help attract other development.
"'Hatcher Pass – A New Beginning' provides a framework on what Hatcher Pass Ski Area will look like," Project Manager Ron Swanson has said. "But it is also a fluid document and will be open to change as we get the environmental information and hear from the public."
The deadline for public comment is Jan. 16, 2009. More information on the entire project including the environmental work in progress along with earlier press releases can be found on the project website at www.hatcherpass.com
Colony Middle School is at 9250 Colony Schools Drive.
Photos: top, Skiers enjoy a slope directly across from the proposed Hatcher Ski area. bottom, Nordic skiers kick through fresh powder. Ted Bell photos.
Two maps are posted here.