The Pajarito Conservation Alliance, (PCA) a 501(c)4 non-profit community organization focusing on information, advocacy, and volunteer work to protect the ecosystems and outdoor experience of the Pajarito Plateau, is concerned about a new arrangement in the works that would completely privatize Pajarito Mountain, contrary to citizens’ prior understanding. See https://pajarito.org/news/201 7/10/4/pajarito-mountain-land- privatization.
PCA members sent the following letter to the Los Alamos County Council Oct. 2 expressing that concern:
Dear Dr. Izraelevitz and Councilors:
I write on behalf of the Pajarito Conservation Alliance, a non-profit community organization that supports the ecosystems and outdoor experience of the Pajarito Plateau.
We are concerned about the new arrangement for Pajarito Mountain that the Los Alamos Ski Club is pursuing with help from the county.
As you know, the original proposal was to transfer ownership of the ski area to the public, and a private company would operate it. This never happened, and now the club has voted to transfer ownership directly to this private company. The deal also includes public funding from the county for a water pipeline, which must be approved by you.
We believe this poses an unacceptable risk that the public will lose access to the mountain. We write to urge you not to approve this funding, because the contract does not adequately protect the public interest and has not received appropriate public input.
The community is assured that the ski area will be “Open and Available to the Public” (quotes are from the ski club’s memo to its membership), except under six exceptions, including “for health and safety reasons, as determined to be appropriate by [the private company] in its sole discretion”, “as may be required by [the company’s] liability insurance carrier”, and “to otherwise facilitate Ski Area business”. These are massive loopholes. Private companies routinely hire smart people full-time to defeat such protections; the above would not be much of a challenge.
Also, we are assured that the company’s “record” is “currently” aligned with the public interest. But companies get sold and leadership turns over; these changes are not a “sale of the property” that would give the county “first right of refusal to acquire the Ski Area”. Private companies are always under pressure to increase profits; will this pressure reliably align with the public interest? We find it very unlikely. Public/private partnership contracts must be written assuming that the company is unfriendly, even if that is not currently the case.
Bottom line: We believe the mountain will be closed to public access as soon as the company decides to do so.
We remind the Council what happened with the old Smith’s. At the time, councilors assured us repeatedly that Kroger’s incentives were aligned with ours and the space would definitely be occupied promptly. We were told Kroger was friendly and they didn’t want it empty either. But these guarantees did not make it into the contract, so now we have an empty building rotting away with no end in sight. As you see in the recent editorial pages, citizens are not happy.
We realize that there are no easy answers here, and we acknowledge and appreciate the hard work of the ski club and others. We worry about the future of local skiing too. However, the right answer is not to transfer ownership of Pajarito Mountain to a private, for-profit entity. This isn’t the only way to keep skiing in Los Alamos. We need a deal with strong, perpetual public access protections, whether or not skiing is a going concern. The current proposal is a bad deal and must be renegotiated.
The Ski Club can do what it likes with its land, but the county doesn’t have to go along with it. We have two requests for you.
First, please vote no when the public money comes to the council.
Second, most citizens are under the impression that Pajarito Mountain will be or already has been transferred to the public. The new, very different proposal deserves a serious effort to gather the public input and feedback that is appropriate for a decision of this magnitude and public interest.
Secretary, Pajarito Conservation Alliance