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SNOWBIRD'S REVISED SKI-LIFT PLAN WINS APPROVAL

It is hardly what Snowbird Ski Resort officials had been seeking for nearly five years, but they'll take it.

The U.S. Forest Service on Thursday approved a revised version of the resort's plan to build its Baby Thunder ski lift. The lift will serve only five ski runs and a total of 26 skiable acres - not the 12 full or partial runs and 49 skiable acres Snowbird sought.Steve Lewis and Bob Athey, citizens who have fought the expansion plans because of environmental and social problems they believe the lift will bring to Little Cottonwood Canyon, hinted Thursday the decision might prompt Snowbird to scrap its "Baby Blunder" plans altogether.

But Ray Gardiner, the resort's chief executive, said Friday the resort will go forward with its plans and could have the lift and new runs ready by next ski season.

"That statement is crazy. (Lewis) is out of his tree," Gardiner said of the suggestion that the Forest Service decision would kill the project. "There's no way we would abandon this. We have a $600,000 lift sitting in the valley waiting to be installed."

In his decision, Bill LeVere, deputy supervisor of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, told Snowbird it cannot have a new race training course, nor can it construct buildings that would have been associated with the race course. He said that would reduce impacts to riparian vegetation and wetlands while allowing the resort to add additional beginner and intermediate runs.

"It's quite a blow," Gardiner said. "Our present race course (on Wilbere Ridge) is in a very congested area on the mountain. We will just use the one we've got. It's less desirable. We were trying to give the public something really nice."

Because the new lift and runs likely would bring more skiers to Snowbird, LeVere ordered the resort to prepare a traffic mitigation plan that encourages the use of mass transit. But Gardiner said the resort already has one in place, and is adhering to it.

"We're the leader in the whole resort industry in supporting public transportation and priority parking for people who (car) pool and spending money in the valley to put in park-and-ride lots," he said.

Lewis said Forest Service officials told him the resort does not have such a plan in place, at least not one accepted by the Utah Transit Authority.

Lewis said Friday he has mixed feelings about the decision.

"The most positive thing is the Forest Service very strongly stated it did not want Snowbird to go into White Pine Canyon," he said. "We had earlier meetings with Snowbird management and they had maps that showed Baby Thunder would have been a connector lift that would take skiers to the White Pine Ridge. It still could act that way."

LeVere wrote in his decision that "numerous significant environmental issues," including loss of biodiversity, impacts on vegetation and potential avalanche hazards, would need to be looked at closely before expansion into White Pine Canyon could be allowed.

Gardiner said by bringing up White Pine Canyon, Lewis and Athey were confusing the issue. Baby Thunder has nothing to do with the canyon, he said.

Snowbird also could be required to renegotiate the amount of money it pays for Forest Service land it now uses. Snowbird will continue its current litigation against the Forest Service that claims the service acted illegally when it allowed Lewis and Athey to appeal its March 1994 decision permitting the Baby Thunder lift and the race course.

Citizens now have 45 days in which to comment on LeVere's decision before it becomes final.