My turn: Give snowmobilers a chance to explain

Posted: Sunday, April 29, 2007

Whether you currently support or oppose the Juneau Snowmobile Club's proposal for access at Eaglecrest Ski Area, I would encourage you to read our proposal before making a decision. Our proposal, which can be found on the Eaglecrest Web site, considers many factors, including noise, exhaust, safety and enforcement. We feel it effectively addresses these concerns and identifies sufficient mitigation measures. The Juneau Snowmobile Club is merely seeking permission to reach lands that are already designated for motorized use. The caption of a recent photo in the Empire asserted that Mount Ben Stewart is "off limits to snowmobilers." In fact, Mount Ben Stewart is on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service Juneau Ranger District and is designated open for motorized use. Snowmobilers would now be utilizing that area if it were accessible. We are not looking to displace current users of Eaglecrest. We are looking for a small corridor to access public land beyond the Eaglecrest boundaries.

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The mission of Eaglecrest is published as: "a community-owned winter recreation area and year-round destination for outdoor recreation and education, providing a wide range of winter and summer outdoor recreational activities." The Eaglecrest facility is publicly owned. All Juneau residents help support the facility. Their 2006 budget was subsidized from the city's general fund in the amount of $500,000. That figure is up from $363,100 the previous year. The adopted budget for 2007 fiscal year has the subsidy increased to $575,000. The approved budget for FY 2008 increases the subsidy to $625,000.

This year has been a banner snow year, one for the record books. Despite that, I suspect the facility has failed to generate enough revenue to cover expenses. Because the facility is not on AEL&P's power grid, they are forced to generate their own power. With fuel prices continuing to rise, the overhead will continue to climb. Personnel costs are also increasing. The facility's 2007 fiscal year budget notes an increase of $115,500 (10.6 percent) for "wage increases and PERS and health care cost increases." With the installation of the new chair lift, we can expect expenses to climb even faster. Will the addition of the new lift increase revenue enough to keep up with additional expenses, let alone offset some of the existing expenses?

I've read comments and posts noting that current Eaglecrest patrons would be willing to offset anything the Club would pay in order to keep the status quo. That doesn't seem to have proven true. Eaglecrest offered to keep the facility open, on a limited basis, for two additional weekends if there was enough interest. Their Web page notes they are now closed for the season.

As a public facility, partially funded by the whole community (28 percent of the 2006 fiscal year expenses were funded by the subsidy), it makes sense that management would seek to broaden the market to better serve all of us. The facility's mission states that Eaglecrest aspires to be a year-round destination, offering services to a wide range of activities. Let's make some progress toward fulfilling that mission. The Juneau Snowmobile Club is proposing a way to help increase the revenue of Eaglecrest. We're also proposing to help reduce future expenditures through in kind contributions. Perhaps the club could help Eaglecrest put in some trails that would be available for mountain biking and hiking in the summer and to snowmobiles in the winter. Another possibility would be for the club to help smooth out the existing runs to enable the facility to open with less snow on the ground. There are many opportunities to improve the fiscal situation at Eaglecrest. As you ponder whether the Juneau Snowmobile Club's proposal is right for Juneau and you, please keep an open mind and consider all the factors.

• Ray Howard is president of the Juneau Snowmobile Club.

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